Excellence is a powerful teacher. Yet we often fail to learn from excellence because we do not see excellence even when we are exposed to it.
I was on my way to an event and called a driver picked me up. As I approached the car, he walked up and put out his hand. He called me by name, and introduced himself as Louis. He looked me in the eye and asked several questions. He listened to one of my answers and laughed with his full body. This led to a strong first impression; “This is a good guy.”
As I climbed into the car I was about to go into my comfortable introvert state. Louis was not standing for it. He talked to me with enthusiasm. The phone I was pulling out, slipped back into my pocket and my lips began to move. I was engaged in a real conversation.
Louis is a sixty year-old African-American. He grew up in Tennessee, left school in the 11th grade and moved to Detroit.
He told me he was originally making $1,000 a week and many of his neighbors were making $200 a week. Yet they were better off because his money disappeared into alcohol, drugs and women. He told me he was doing what came natural yet he was going nowhere. Then he changed. He discovered God. I asked how he did this. After some thought, he said, “I just could not go on living a meaningless life; I began searching for something more and then I started meeting people and learning things.”
Louis shared some of his lessons. He told me the mind produces images and the images shape behavior. Most people take in whatever image is in front of them but he explained this does not have to be the case, you can control the images that register on your brain. He explained how. He shared practical strategies for improving life.
He told me of a recent conversation in his car. He picked up an executive who had had a six hour flight delay. He was in a very negative mood. Louis told me that he had to figure out how to lift the man; that doing so was his calling.
After much reflection, Louis asked the man, “Tomorrow are you going to feel better than you feel right now?”
The man answered in the affirmative. Louis said, “Why wait until tomorrow?”
The man was shocked. Then he laughed. He said, “You are right. Why wait? You just made me a better person. My wife is going to have a better evening tonight because of you.”
As Louis finished the story he went into another deep body laugh. Then he said, “That is my life. I am here to help people. I never want to stop learning and I never want to stop helping other people learn.”
For the next two hours I had the pleasure of being taught by Louis. When we finally arrived he said, “Look at that, two hours, it seems like ten minutes. Being with you was wonderful.”
I laughed and told Louis that being with him was wonderful. We made arrangements so that he was my driver on the return trip.
This morning I reflect back on that conversation. I see so many lessons. One is particularly important. To me Louis represents success in the fundamental journey to leadership. We all start out fully dependent. Some of us live in abundance and some in scarcity. We each have our own array of advantages and disadvantages.
As we become teenagers, we begin the search for independence. Often we travel paths that lead to meaninglessness. As the emptiness grows, we may begin to search for something more. When we are ready to learn, teachers show up in the form of people and/or experiences. We evolve towards productive interdependence. As we do, we begin to feel whole. We bring both our mind and our heart to a higher purpose. We experience the transformation of self-interest. We find our greatest meaning in contribution. We discover a calling.
Louis has a calling. He is not in the car to drive, he is in the car to “help people,” he never wants to “stop learning” and he “never wants to stop helping other people learn.” Louis is an example of excellence in leadership and I loved learning from him.
- How is Louis a manifestation of excellence?
- What would happen if you were surrounded by people like Louis?
- What could you do today to become more like Louis?
- How could you use this passage to create a more positive organization?