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Adventures in Leadership

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Stop being a boss and start being a leader who builds cultures.—Bob Davids

 adventures in leadership

While I had never heard of Bob Davids five years ago, it was about then that I stopped being a boss and started trying to be a leader who builds cultures. What an extraordinary adventure! Today I work at an organization that prides itself on the culture we have built together and that we work to sustain every day. It is not easy. Neither is leadership. Being a manager is very often about you and your results. Leadership is about everyone else but you. It is a lifetime pursuit and well worth the trip.

As it turns out, leadership is mostly about learning and discovery. There are endless things to learn and discover, starting with our own tendencies, preferences, strengths and limitations. It is about turning over rocks, finding what challenge or opportunity awaits, and inspiring others to want to go on the adventure with you because you have earned their trust. This is true “even if they do so…only out of curiosity” (Colin Powell, The Essence of Leadership,

Not only is Powell’s The Essence of Leadership a great short video on leadership, but if you have never seen the Bob Davids video on leadership without ego, I encourage you to do so. You can find it here:

I’ve seen both of them a few times now, most recently on the last day of my Influence Leaders series at Priority Learning. The Bob Davids video sticks with me because it is a simple twelve and a half minute presentation by a man sitting, with one prop, and quietly talking to an audience. The prop is a length of red and white plastic chain draped over his leg.

The reason the video draws you in is the simplicity of his delivery, his body language that reflects an intense humility, and then, of course, the curiosity. What is he planning to do with that length of plastic chain?

One of the reasons I find the video so compelling is the presence of Bob Davids. He doesn’t draw attention to his own accomplishments, and he has many ( He refers to himself as a designer and an entrepreneurial businessman. He also gives other leaders credit for their strong influence on his own leadership path. One of those leaders is Dwight D. Eisenhower.

That brings me back to the plastic chain. The first time I watched the video I was quite curious about the chain. What hooked me even further was the moment he began to talk about Eisenhower. It must be a history geek thing. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know more about Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the U.S. forces in Europe during World War II? One of the D-Day masterminds? The 34th president of the United States? Gettysburg farmer?

It seems that Eisenhower had some leadership skills, on top of a catchy title. I can’t really think of anything that would be better to have printed on your business cards under your name than Supreme Allied Commander. Supreme Allied Commander of Lending and Culture, maybe? Just a thought. Or maybe it’s one of those things where the more ridiculous the title and the more medals on your uniform, the more humble you need to be.

The truth is that great leaders are humble leaders who want to share their knowledge and keep developing more leaders. The chain idea that Bob Davids uses is one that Eisenhower employed with his generals to impart a lesson on leadership. It seems that he would drop the chain on a table, and ask where the chain would go if pushed. Hmm. Good question. He would then ask where the chain would go if pulled. That’s easy. It would follow. Isn’t that a great visual representation for leadership?

Push people, and you’re never quite sure what you might get. Build trust, set a vision, show the way, and then pull people along with you (please note I did not say drag), and they will follow. That seems to be the only way to be in charge of 4 million troops and have them all pulling in the same direction. As Davids says, leadership is a gift. My study of history and the leaders who have emerged in armed conflicts from the beginning of time tells me that World War II was won in large part due to strength of leadership.

As a leader, are you aware of your influence, and whether you push or pull? Are you managing people or leading people? As Bob Davids says, “management is control,” and if all you do is manage, you will never know if people do things because they want to, or grudgingly, because they feel they have to. Leadership and culture are about people.

After we finished watching the video in our Influence Leaders class, we had a great discussion about leadership development. There was some energetic dialogue and questions around whether leaders are born that way, or if they are developed. There were eight really smart people in the room, and while we didn’t come to a complete consensus, we decided that leaders come in many different types. Some are natural leaders from birth, and others decide that they want to learn how to lead and spend their lives studying and practicing. The one thing we did seem to agree on is that leadership is a sustained effort that is nearly impossible to completely master. Even the best, most experienced leaders make mistakes. Fortunately, those leaders are the ones who take ownership, keep encouraging others to grow, and pull others along instead of pushing. 

I would love to know what you think. Are leaders born, or can they emerge with the right tools, encouragement, and effort? 

Thank you for reading. Your feedback is welcome.

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Deb Sparrow
Maine State Credit Union
Senior Vice President/CLO

Deb is Senior Vice President and Chief Lending Officer at Maine State Credit Union, the largest credit union in Maine. She directs the lending and collections functions and has served in a senior leadership role at the credit union for over 18 years. She has more than 27 years of experience in all types of lending. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Priority Learning's Executive Leadership series.



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