Growing up, my family knew more lean times than days of plenty. Sometimes there would be so little to go around that I would go without lunch at school. Now, let me clarify that there are people who have been in more dire situations than I was.
But back then I would watch my classmates munching away at hot dogs, sandwiches and cake while I consumed copious amounts of air-burgers. This was tough to deal with, both mentally and emotionally.
I did not want to bother my poor mother. She cared (and still cares) very much about all her children. Voicing my thoughts about the food would only spike her blood pressure off the chart. So instead of bothering her, I chose a very interesting method to block out the torment I was going through: books became my solace.
Having nothing else to turn to, I devised a method to salt and pepper my meals. When the food was unpalatable, sometimes nothing more than a plate of potatoes and mealy meal, I choose to read through it.As we could not even afford to buy one storybook, I had acquired a dog-eared copy of Famous Five by Enid Blyton from a friend in school.
The book had a healthy reference to fried eggs, bacon, freshly baked bread, and fruit. It may sound trivial, but when the only thing on my table was a bowl of plain porridge, the book was a heavenly distraction. The stomach can handle anything the mind instructs it to; I am living proof of that!
And leadership isn’t any different. To be a leader worth following, you need to build the right mindset. This must then be supported by consistency in integrity, accountability, learning and resilience.
In his memoir, The Measure of a Man, Sidney Poitier, the first African-American to win the Academy Award for best actor, vividly describes what self-inspiration can yield, if you only have the courage and discipline to pursue it.
His first audition did not go down well. The man in charge quickly let Sidney know – in no uncertain terms – that he was misguided in my assumptions. Sidney had no training in acting and could barely read! And to top it off , he had a thick, sing song Bahamian accent.
“He snatched the script from my hands, spun me around, grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and the back of my pants, and marched me on my tippy toes toward the door,” Sidney remembers. The man was seething. “You just get out of here and stop wasting people’s time. Go get a job you can handle,” he barked. And just as he threw Sidney out, he ended with, “Get yourself a job as a dish-washer or something.”
To Sidney, the man’s comments stung worse than any wasp. His assessment was like a death sentence for his soul.
“Whatever it was, I knew I had to change it, or life was going to be mighty grim… So I set out on a course of self-development.I worked nights and on my meal-breaks…sat near the entrance to the kitchen, reading newspapers, trying to sound out each syllable of each unfamiliar word.”
Poitier went on to flunk out again, but he was resilient. He worked out a deal where he became the theatre’s janitor. He became an understudy while sweeping the walk and stoking the wood stove. To cut the long story short, he eventually made the cut and finally made on to the stage. It was not easy, but his persistence and self motivation paid off. He used a negative experience as inspiration towork and learn, and change his life.
This script was very dear to me as I worked hard to develop my leadership thought and action. To become a life-long student and practitioner of leadership, you must posses the right attitude and dedication to excellence. Only then can you launch yourself from a platform of negativity into a future of hope and positive experiences.
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