Leadership Through Opportunity

“What makes a great leader?”  A frequently-asked question, indeed.  Experts have long considered the characteristics of great leaders, in order to understand how they are developed.  Are individuals born with certain attributes that make them great leaders?  Is there a genetic predisposition to leadership?  What role do education and social environment play in the development of leaders?  All valid questions.

One thing that most leaders have in common is opportunity.  A void to be filled.  A cause to be won.  A wrong that must be made right.  An innovation to be introduced.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in American history.

Consider the military.  Washington.  Grant.  Eisenhower.  Each of them rose to greatness, in part, due to their opportunity to lead American forces in the Revolutionary, Civil and Second World Wars, respectively.  Had they already achieved prior to those opportunities?  Significantly so.  But, they excelled as they led America through dark days of war.

Consider politics.  Lincoln, the perpetual loser of elections, finally won one only to be faced with the hardest decisions ever made by an American President.  Roosevelt, overcoming immense physical challenges, brought America out of the Great Depression and displayed unbelievable will as we entered World War II.  Reagan inherited a nation with a real inferiority complex that many thought was dying and brought “morning to America again.”

Consider social justice.  Our nation’s history is filled with stories of those who inspired a nation to overcome injustice.  Dr. King and the peaceful way that he protested racial inequity.  Susan B. Anthony and her passion to see that women had the right to vote.  In Arkansas, we understand deeply the courage of Daisy Bates as she led nine teenagers to make an earth-shattering stand in Little Rock in 1957.

Consider business.  John D. Rockefeller began amassing the greatest personal fortune the world has ever known by standardizing the way kerosene was produced, packaged and delivered to homes in the late 19th century.  The “standard” in Standard Oil was born of that opportunity.  Henry Ford put America “on the road” by revolutionizing the way automobiles were made with his assembly line.  Gates and Jobs led us into the most fascinating of American times by creating personal computing and along the way showed us a thing or two about competition in corporate America.

The list goes on.  Educational leaders.  Religious leaders.  Leaders in arts and invention.

It’s interesting to consider if Bill Gates would have been as great a leader as John Rockefeller, had he been born in 1839.  Would Lincoln be the leader that America, indeed the world, needs today?  Would Susan B. Anthony have been a great President had she lived today, instead of having to fight slavery and suffrage?  Would Eisenhower have accomplished the same level of success had he been a contemporary of Washington?

We will never know the answers to those questions.  It may not even be worth our time to consider them.  However, we can KNOW that they were leaders in their day, at their time, facing the challenges of the world as they knew it.  They each made the most of THEIR opportunity!

Are you looking to create leaders today?  As a parent?  As an educator?  As a manager?  If so, there are many factors to consider.  But, one thing is sure: you must help them understand how to recognize opportunity.  Opportunity comes in many forms.  It is my belief that every challenge – no matter how large or small – creates an opportunity for someone to lead.

It’s your choice.  Sit back and wait for someone to hand you an opportunity. Or go find it yourself!  I hope that you’ll go find it.  As you are doing so, remember: commit to making every day a good day!

Just Good Days, folks!

14,893 Days

For some time I’ve contemplated a foray into the blogosphere – a way to share some of my experiences, both personal and professional.  I subscribe to a number of regular blogs and I appreciate the ones that provoke thought by touching you emotionally.  I find it easier to learn when I’m smiling, laughing or even feeling a tug at the strings of my heart.  That’s what I hope to achieve.

I’ll be honest – I’ve struggled with the subject matter of this first post.  I wanted everything to be “just right.”  I recently asked a good friend who is an experienced blogger when he knew he had the perfect topic for his first post.  He said, “Be patient and let it happen.  You’ll know it when it comes to you.”

Turns out, he was right!  Something happened to me recently that provided the perfect topic for this post.  The story also explains the title of this site.  Just Good Days.

14,893 days.  That’s 40 years, 9 months, 10 days.  I recently returned to a place after an absence of that length.  For the first time since I left as a patient on January 9, 1975, I set foot inside St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  I’ve driven by on occasion.  I even returned to the campus once in 1991 for a dedication ceremony, but I’ve always intentionally avoided entering the hospital itself.  Until October 18, 2015.

For several years I’ve been repeatedly asked to participate in a program designed specifically for former St. Jude patients.  In my heart I knew that it was something I should do, but I always found a reason to decline.  In 2012 I even told them that I would come, but found a last-minute excuse to back out.  This year I traveled to Memphis determined that I would overcome whatever it was that was holding me back.Statue of St. Jude

The hospital that I knew in November 1974 no longer exists.  It was razed in 1991 to make way for progress.  One thing has not changed.  As I approached the building, I saw the familiar, iconic, towering white statue of St. Jude.  It stands today in it’s original location – the very spot on which it stood in February 1962 when the original facility was dedicated.

Then came the hard part.  We needed to visit the registration office inside the hospital for check-in.  The new facility is similar to the original building.  Walking down that hallway brought back a flood of memories.  The sights were the same.  The smells were familiar.  In an instant, I recalled things that had been pushed to the recesses of my mind.  I couldn’t wait to get out of there!  Just like 1975!

A prominent feature of the campus is a beautiful courtyard, surrounded by trees.  It is quite literally an oasis in the midst of a busy downtown.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a more peaceful place on earth.  It serves as the final resting place for hospital founder Danny Thomas and his wife.  This serene place was the perfect setting for me to face my past.  My wife, Lisa, was with me and provided encouragement as I made the decision not to return home.  I needed to stay and face some things as a 53 year-old that a 12 year-old boy had not known how to process.

The next two days were a whirlwind of activity and a true blessing.  I underwent physical tests, not the least of which involved the drawing of nineteen vials of blood drawn after fasting for 15 hours!  Without passing out.  I’m amazed at how technology has advanced.  I discussed my health – past and present – with health professionals.  In between tests I was able to roam the halls and take in the wonders that are St. Jude in 2015.  I also discovered that a small portion, literally one hallway, of the original building still stands.  I couldn’t wait to find it.  It’s pictured below.

Pioneers Wall - St. Jude

I dealt with some strong emotions while standing with my hand pressed against the cement block wall of that original building.  I’m thankful that I stayed and spent those three days at St. Jude.

I’ve come to realize some things as a result of my trip to Memphis.  I can now truly say that I’m proud to be called a St. Jude Survivor.  I came to have a true, deep appreciation for some decisions that my parents made.  I won’t bore you with details, but know that my mother and father made a decision that is the most courageous thing I will ever know in my lifetime.  Without their decision my life would not be what it is today.

My diagnosis was highly-unusual.  Perhaps the most unusual of all childhood cancers.  The only treatment that the doctors could offer in 1975 was a radical procedure that was precautionary in nature and would have negatively impacted me physically and emotionally for life.  It was the best option that the medical staff could identify, since they believed that the cancer would recur.  My parents made the courageous decision to trust in God that the cancer would not recur.  It never has.  I thank God alone every day for that blessing.

During a consult, I asked my doctor if he knew of any staff members who remained from 1975.  He introduced me to my new friend, Dr. Debbie Crom.  She went to work as a nurse for Dr. Charles Pratt – my physician at St. Jude – in February 1975.  We Marty and Debbiemissed each other by a matter of days!  Meeting Debbie was a joy!  She has dedicated her professional life – 40 years of hard work – to the kids of St. Jude.  The history of St. Jude is filled with thousands just like her, those who made that same commitment.  They are amazing people.  Love and thanks to each of you from this gray-headed “St. Jude kid!”

Debbie provided me with a real connection to my days at St. Jude.  She walked me through my file.  It is an aging binder filled with yellowing pages.  It contains an amusing picture of a gawky, 5’4″, 84-pound boy.  It contains correspondence between my father and the hospital.  Descriptions of medical procedures, all of which I remember vividly, are detailed therein.  Most special is the page containing the doctor’s transcript of the phone call with my mother, dated 1:40 p.m. on January 29, 1975, during which she told them that “her son will live or die, but he will do so ‘whole.'”  Thanks, Mom and Dad, for that decision!

The hour-long conversation with Debbie was recorded and a portion of it is included in a video recently produced by the hospital.  The video tells the beautiful story of another St. Jude kid, Lori, who recently became a mother.  If you can spare 5 minutes, I’m sure that you will enjoy the video by following this link.

Personally, I don’t believe that places on this earth should be considered “holy.”  To me, holiness and reverence are reserved for God.  But, if there is a place on earth that could be considered “holy” it would be St. Jude.

If you are not familiar with St. Jude, I encourage you to become so.  Incredible strides have been made there.  Survival rates that were once thought to be impossible are now reality.  Most amazingly, treatment at St. Jude is given without regard to a family’s ability to pay.  Donations make miracles happen for families of very sick children.  Read more of this remarkable story on their website at http://www.stjude.org/.  As you think about charitable giving at this time of year, St. Jude is certainly worthy of your consideration.

BAD DAYS?  How in the world can a person have a bad day after being given  nearly 15,000 more days than doctors expected?  I hope I’m blessed with many more days, but regardless of what happens, they will ALL be good!

Stay tuned for more to come!  Stories of inspiration, leadership, and effectiveness.

Until next time, remember: Just Good Days!