The Perfect Leadership Story

This is the perfect leadership story, emanating from St Albans College, one of the top schools in South Africa and an exemplary leadership academy for the future leaders of our country and beyond.

It is about a Grade 8 (Form 1) student that has been endowed with great abilities, but at this stage of his physical development, not with sporting or natural fitness talent, although he is probably a late bloomer. It is also about fellow students and a teacher that exemplified attributes of model leadership, and a mother that closed the loop. It is about every character in this example playing their part. It is a simple and true story that corporate, political, civic, sports, educational and other leaders can and must learn from.

As part of school tradition the different houses competed against one another and all the boys had to participate in running a 3km race through school grounds. Our Grade 8 student struggled to finish or even jog all the way and being slightly ill didn’t help either. As a result he had to walk part of the race while being lapped by many. He kept going. To his surprise his fellow grade 8 students who completed the race went back to cheer him on and assist him to finish the race, walking alongside him to the end.

The next day our grade 8 student was very stiff and sore and didn’t feel like going to school. But he did, and it was here that the ‘teacher leader’ stood up and sealed the experience. He thanked all the boys for participating in the race and then made special mention of our grade 8 student that persevered and finished, even though he had to walk part of the race.

The mother was there to cheer our grade 8 student on to go to school the next day and she got in the car with him to drive the 3km route and relive the experience; allowed him to point out where boys started lapping him and at what point friends came back to walk with him.

So, who is the leader in this story?

What makes this so perfect is that every actor in the story was a leader. The boys that went back showed great leadership by supporting a friend and cheering him on. They showed that life, and therefore leadership is not just about winning alone but assisting the entire team to finish the race. They showed that everyone in the team is important. They cared. Ironically, when all grade 8 students started 2014 with a camp and every one of them were paraded in front of a panel of grade 12 students to field questions, one question being “who in your group would you send on their way?”, our grade 8 student answered no one, “because we are a team and should stand together”. This was not everyone’s answer.

The teacher demonstrated great leadership by recognizing and highlighting not only expected efforts on the day but also the winning attribute of perseverance that will stand these young leaders in good stead way beyond school. His leadership was brilliant because he lifted the entire situation to a higher level.

The mother cared. She showed vision when she allowed her son to relive the experience; to offload; to recap; to review; to get closure. She helped him work through it and become stronger as a result.

And then, our grade 8 student was also a leader because he had the courage to persevere and keep on going, to finish. His example was powerful! The example of leaders really matter! And, if it wasn’t for him none of these leaders in this story would have had the opportunity to serve, share, respect, lead and grow character.

So what can experienced corporate, political, civic, sporting and other educational leaders learn from this true story?

I imagine a Mine Overseer (MO) or Mine Captain, even a Shift Boss (SB) on a shaft noticing his colleague, another MO or SB struggling to achieve production targets and after achieving his own, turning back to assist his colleague to finish the race, because he realizes everyone on that shaft is a team and depend on one another to succeed.

I can imagine one executive on a leadership team walking into the office of a struggling fellow executive that has just had a horrible executive meeting, sitting down and sincerely asking: “How can I help you?” as opposed to “let me know if I can assist”, or even allowing his colleague to struggle on alone.

I can imagine the Head Master of a successful school where they have 100% matric pass rate, and many more achievements, turning back and offering assistance to another struggling school to help them move towards the same achievements.

I can imagine the leader above the MO’s, SB’s, Executives and Head Master sincerely congratulating these individuals for demonstrating what leadership is really about – successful movement (achievement)… together!

And finally, I can imagine the down and out MO, SB, Executive and Head Master humbly accepting assistance and allowing a colleague to share his energy, expertise, resources, for the good of the entire team, business, school, education system, future of a country, realizing that this is a great opportunity for a colleague to serve, respect, care, lead and therefore grow. You see, sometimes we need to be on the other end of the leadership story – we need to be served. Then, the time will come when we will be the servant leader.


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Louis has been fanatically endeavoring to uncover universal leadership principles and models for longer than most of us have been alive. He is an author, leadership expert, father, grandfather, and the Co-Founder of Leadership Platform.

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