We made a fort out of sticks when I was 11. We called it our clubhouse.
"Now we need rules for who can come into our fort," said Eddie.
"No girls allowed," quipped Steven.
"We need a secret password," I said.
"We need a president," said Bobby. "That should be me."
"We argued for an hour about the rules and about who should be president. We finally gave the title to Bobby. One week later he and Steven had a fistfight outside the fort. With bloodied lip and heavy breathing, Steven shouted, "We got to vote him out as president and then throw him out of the clubhouse!
I learned something about leadership, and the power that comes with a title. Bobby was a nice kid until he became president of our clubhouse fort. Then he told us no food allowed unless he approved. No music allowed unless he approved. No anything allowed unless he approved.
After the fight, which was over an argument about Steven's bologna and pickle sandwich, Bobby never came back
I worked for seven principals in my long teaching career. Only two empowered and trusted us to do what we thought were the best methods to teach our students.
The other five, each at one time humble and one of us teachers, became egomaniacs. I remember one principal shouting out at a faculty meeting, "This is my school and we are going to do what I know is best for our students!"
I had always thought the school belonged to all of us, including the students.
This raises a question that is still relevant from my clubhouse days.
"Are our leaders serving the people or are the people serving our leaders?"
When you look at the qualities sought for a leadership position, you probably will never see that they must be humble and never self-serving.
American businessman Peter Drucker said, "Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things." He professed that before making any decision that will affect the people you serve, you need to consider the issue from every angle and the consequences of who it will affect and the long-term ramifications for the person or people who make the decision.
Some people in power stick to the "letter of the law" and believe that leaders have to separate human compassion or understanding from hard rules. In many cases, these types of leaders lose the trust and faith from those who elected them and they ultimately fall from power.
Then are other titled people who step outside of black-and-white language or rules and regulations and do what they think will have a better long-term effect.
Recently a man was cited for speeding 10 miles over the speed limit in a Midwestern city and he decided to bring his case before the judge. He stood at the podium with his wife and child and surprised the judge by admitting his guilt.
"What the policeman said was right," explained the accused. "I did drive over the limit, but I was taking my wife to the medical center. She was sick and needed immediate attention."
After some further dialogue, the judge called the man's young son to the bench.
"I'm going to ask you one question young man," said the judge. "Is your father guilty or innocent?"
"Guilty!" shouted the boy. The judge laughed. He turned to the man and his wife and said. 'You have a great little boy here. Charges are dismissed."
When told by critics of his decision that he would now have to make exceptions for others who speed, the judge explained that each case deserves to be evaluated, otherwise he or any other person in authority would not be needed at all. He added that making an exception could be understood as a good deed if the circumstances warrant the decision made. They would see it as an act of compassion, not one of brute authority.
I would raise this question in my philosophy class: Is it better that a leader be feared or loved? Most said feared, but then after further discussion, they said fear is better to get people to follow the laws but it will eventually lead to rebellion. The students concluded that there should be a balance of authority and fairness.
I asked what kind of rebellion would they advocate. Peaceful protests and vote for change were the suggestions by everyone except for one young man who sat in the back of the class.
"Clubhouse rules," he announced. "Grab him by the shirt and throw him out."
I looked at my student and smiled. I was 11 again and right in front of me was Steven with his bloody lip.
Rich Strack can be reached at email@example.com.