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  • Writer's pictureAnn Wagner

To serve. Lessons in Leadership

Memorial Day is a day for remembrance and reflection. And gratitude. For those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, and for those that served. I think of all those whose paths have crossed with mine - whether I knew them briefly or they have become family. I read earlier today an article on lessons of leadership from the military. I think about what it means to be a leader, in the military, regardless of rank or title.  I think about what it means to be a leader in our own lives. While I cannot pretend to know what it's like to serve in the military, I like to think I do know about leadership.  As a title, but more so, I hope, at its purest definition. And for those that are close to my heart that have served, I can tell you they are leaders of the highest caliber. 

A couple of weeks ago I had the immense pleasure to spend a few days on the Bowling Green University campus, joining the Clark Inclusive Scholars Program (an individualized post-secondary certificate program for students with intellectual developmental disabilities) on a week-long immersion.  I facilitated a session on leadership for 10 Clark Students, 7 mentor students and 2 faculty.  As I was preparing it,  I was a bit unsure how it would go (while I am a former special ed teacher, my more recent experiences in facilitating or coaching on the topic of leadership have primarily been with executives or members of a management team). But man, what a privilege to help these students consider what makes a leader, outside of the job title. Too often people confuse leadership with authority. 

Following a brief discussion on how to define leadership, I asked the question: “How do you want to be?” I love this question. 

Regardless of who you are, what role you have, your age or experiences, one of the most important jobs we have is to be our own leader.  As Warren Bennis (Founding Chairman of the Leadership Institute at the Univ of Southern California) stated, “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.  It's precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.”

I believe today is a day that honors leadership, and therefore can offer profound lessons on leadership.  My top three:


  1. Dedication to a greater purpose –  Leaders know the importance of a team.  There is a common purpose. I am reminded of the movie “Society of Snow” about the plane crash in the Andes and how 19 people survived for 72 days.  How did they survive?  They came together.  They answered the question – who do I want to be, and how do we make that happen? This snowballs into trust, common bonds, and a culture where everyone is motivated towards the same mission, the same shared vision. They were able to put individual purpose aside and focus on team purpose.  The dedication is inspiring → leaders motivate people to put their best efforts towards a common goal. 

  2. Importance of Resilience and Perseverance –  Leaders fail courageously but keep getting up. They understand that success is not achieved without the willingness to learn, to grow, and to change.  Failing isn't just about making a mistake.  It's choosing to try your absolute best when the outcome is uncertain.  It's giving it your all when you have no control over the outcome, but knowing that you have control over how you will act, respond, and grow. That's failing courageously. 

  3. Focus Attention where it needs to be –  The number of distractions we are faced with today seem to multiply like Gremlins in a waterfall.  Leaders know the priorities, and can keep the focus and motivation where it needs to be.  This is not about ignoring other important items, but it is about knowing when and where THEIR attention needs to be, at that specific moment.


Someone said to me recently who was in the military, “Imagine getting up every morning, putting on a helmet, and strapping a rifle to your back…”  To which I replied, “I cannot.” 

I cannot come even close to imagining that. 


But what I do know, is that navigating that, or anything else life throws our way, takes leadership.  It takes us learning to become our best selves.  Whether you have served in the military or are a student learning how to live independently - we are all leaders of our own lives. 



So ask yourself: How do you want to be?

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