...(or two sentences from my dad taught me more about leadership than I’ve learned in some years) Guest Post by Daniel Cummings (bio below)
A few years ago my dad, who is the greatest leader I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, retired from a 50 year long career in public education. He did amazing things in his career, including being named the 2005 Missouri Superintendent of the year, having a district building named after him, and gathering more awards and honors than he can fit in his home office (I’m not kidding he had to choose which to hang and which to store). During his last few weeks our family had the honor of attending awards ceremonies and city and state proclamations, it was a true honor to see the outpouring of love for him.
The greatest memory I have, and the biggest lesson learned wasn’t during his awards speeches but in a quiet moment during a car ride when it was just the two of us. Leaving yet another ceremony in his honor, and getting into his car in front of a community center that he helped lead the charge to have built I asked a simple question, “what achievement are you most proud of in your career?” Was it the new state of the art high school he’d opened just that year? The very community center we were sitting in front of? Maybe one of the plaques that hung on his wall. His answer was surprising and a perfect summation of the leader he is. He simply said, “That first bond (tax increase for schools) issue we passed during my first full year as superintendent. I knew that things were going to change after that.” That victory, while it was a smaller one, spoke volumes about what he believed and I learned a few lessons in those two sentences.
- True leadership isn’t about me, it’s about us – Anytime my dad was given an award he always thanked the community, school board, and the staff of the school district and he meant it. He worked to make the lives of students better and provide meaningful interactions between schools and the community. He gave himself to the collective “we” of the district and worked to help make others successful.
- Success creates longevity- the average school superintendent has the job for 3 years, with all of its demands. My dad held the position for almost 15 in part by relishing is the success of the not only himself but the district and others. When a school did well, he celebrated with them. When an improvement issue was voted on and passed, he celebrated. When the transportation department had their yearly banquet you better believe he was there. When you celebrate other’s success you relive your own and gather, often, much needed encouragement to keep going.
- Values guide behavior – You can only fake it for so long, in the end what you truly want and believe guides what you do. In my dad’s case he was about creating the best environment possible for students to learn and grow. He understood that when schools grow, people grow, and communities grow. He dedicated his life to helping this happen and believed it at his core and it guided what he did.
I could write for days about the leadership lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn from my dad, as I gained these from one brief conversation. He inspires me to be a better leader and person and I hope what I have shared can do the same for you.