Yesterday, reading a list of conferences students can attend to learn leadership skills, I was taken back to my school years and the programs offered to me to learn to lead.
Come to think of it, there weren’t any.
My schools didn’t give much thought to teaching me to be a leader. They were too busy teaching me to do long division. They had their hands full.
But I did learn to lead the way we learned most things in those days (“those days” being just after dirt was invented) — I taught myself.
Quickly realizing that my parents were not going to allow me to practice my leadership skills on them, I set my sights on my peers.
I attended kindergarten in a lady’s home. One day at recess, I organized the other kids into two teams for a war. I instructed them to strip all the green plums off our teacher’s plum trees and fire them at each other on my command. It was great fun!
When the teacher saw that she would have no plum jelly that year and realized who the lead plum terrorist was, she gave me another chance to lead. She told me to line up all the other kids, then get in the front of the line. She whipped every one of us, starting with me.
I learned that a leader may win the war but suffer later for her military decisions.
Giving up on team building for awhile, I moved on in the first grade to one-on-one leadership activity.
My friend Ellen wore cowgirl boots to school every day. To further my dream of being a cowgirl in the movies, I badly needed those boots. I ordered Ellen to give me her boots every day when she got to school, and she would wear my Mary Janes. I threw in my daily snack bag of pretzels to sweeten the deal, and I told her I would beat her up if she didn’t comply.
I stomped around in cowgirl boots every day, a happy Dale Evans look-alike, until we forgot to exchange footwear at the end of school one day, and Ellen’s mother got wind of my ploy. Needless to say, Ellen was more afraid of her mother’s leadership than she was of mine, so it was goodbye Dale Evans, hello Mary Janes.
Thus, I learned that one leader can always be intimidated by another leader who weighs 150 pounds more than you do and has perfected the evil eye.
On School Picture Day in the fourth grade, I thought it would be fun to organize my class to stick out their tongues just as the photographer clicked the shot. All of them thought it was a fun idea and agreed to go along with it. But when the pictures came back and students began to open their packets, a wave of angry “awww’s” cascaded across the room. I pulled my copy out and looked, and there I was, the only person in the photo with her tongue poked out.
“You ruint our picture!” I was told more than once.
From this experience I learned that you aren’t a leader if you can’t get everyone to do what you want them to. If you’re the only one sticking your tongue out in a group photo, you come across more weirdo than boss.
In my tenth grade year America was in the middle of the Kennedy-Nixon campaign for the presidency. My teacher allowed us to have a two-person debate in front of the class. One of us would represent Richard Nixon and one John Kennedy.
Because I fancied myself a Democrat in those days, and because Kennedy was cuter, I volunteered to debate for Kennedy for President. I went to his campaign headquarters in town and picked up literature, listened to the campaign news every night and prepared myself for the big debate.
When the time came for my Republican friend and me to face off, it was D-Day in 10th grade social studies! I leveled a barrage of facts at my Nixon-supporting opponent, overwhelming her with details of Kennedy’s superiority, some of which I may have made up in the heat of battle. But my aggressive presentation left her speechless and sputtering!
When the class took a mock vote, my Democrat, Kennedy, had won in what was t hen the Republican stronghold of Pasadena, California.
The problem was that my friend the Nixon supporter never spoke to me again.
Lesson Learned: Part of learning leadership is learning to play nice.
Through the rest of high school and college, I had other escapades in leading people, but the statute of limitations may not have run out on some of them yet, and I don’t want to incriminate myself.
I think I have enough leadership experience now through the School of Hard Knocks to deserve one of those fancy certificates from a top leadership school like other people pay to attend.
And with crime escalating in the world today, you never know when Simpson County may require someone with my skills to organize a Plum Attack Team to save us!