A few weeks ago I had the humble privilege of engaging a dozen phenomenal seventh and eight grade students. They were part of an inaugural, three-day event called, Team Leadership Initiative. It was an honor to be asked to speak on the topic of, Faith in Leadership. When I teach or present topics I like to make the session interactive since lecture is the least effective way people learn. So, I prepared a skeleton of my presentation, leaving lots of pockets, catalyzed with questions, for discussion.
I arrived with several pages of quotes from well known and not-so-significant leaders. I was very pleased to find a few of the students were familiar with all of the quotes. It was invigorating to interact with and discuss how faith affects leadership. The topic is worth far more than one hour.
These words seemed to roll off my tongue as though I’d been saying them for years.
However, emerging from the back-and-forth banter was the question of what should the posture be of a leader who finds herself in adverse situations. “Leaders don’t have the luxury of playing the victim,” I said. These words seemed to roll off my tongue as though I’d been saying them for years, but I hadn’t. At that moment, in that crucible of leadership, a change was taking place in both students and professor. A revelation was coming, opening our eyes just a little wider. I repeated the phrase several times watching as pencils scribbled on paper. “And, sometimes, you can’t be the Blood Hound, you have to be the Pit Bull.” I continued. A student raised her hand and asked for clarification.
Now, unlike “the victim” quip, the Pit Bull and Blood Hound phrase wasn’t new to me. I’d heard it long ago in the rural hills of West Virginia through the lips of a peer mentor. It stuck with me for well over a decade but found itself shelved in the bookcase of my mind, collecting dust. And just as swiftly as I heard it, this middle school leadership forum dislodged it from its arid space. “What do you mean by that?” she asked. Oh, how I love that question! And herein is the thought for today.
When engaging an adversary, you can hear a Blood Hound wail and moan for miles away. Spotting its target, it bays and hollers like no other canine; it’s unique. Drawing all sorts of attention, the coon, fox or other varmint runs for cover, the Blood Hound whooping up a ruckus. But the Pit Bull, oh, the Pit Bull. It may bark, it may growl, but the Pit Bull isn’t about drawing attention, it’s about drawing blood. It goes for the throat, takes hold of whatever is in its way, and deals with the problem decisively.
As leaders, we can’t just point out the problem, holler, yell and make a lot of noise. We can’t always be the Blood Hound. Sometimes, in focused confidence, we just have to deal with the issue decisively, like a Pitty.
If we’re going to lead well, we don’t have time to play the victim.
Now, before you go to work and tear people up, there’s a lot more to leadership than just, “Full speed ahead! Attack!” Do this and people fall off the boat, are left behind or worse, get injured. You can’t latch your jaws onto every problem strolling by and decapitate it. We have to pick our battles wisely. That’s part of the art of leadership. But, at the same time, we can’t be all bark and no bite.
We’re called to lead. If we’re going to lead well, we don’t have time to play the victim. And we’re going to have to learn to deal with problems head on, not in a cacophony of vocal wailing, but decisively, wisely and sometimes quickly. My fire department, Palmer Municipal, understands this. Their new shirts boldly proclaiming, “Train More, B*tch Less”; sounds like a Pit Bull to me.
My time with the students was only an hour, but it was deep, productive and enlightening. I hope they mature into wise, lovable Pit Bulls. I hope I do, too.