Chasing Charlie... Featured

9:51am EDT July 22, 2002

When I first met Boyd, he had just returned to the States from a tour of duty in Vietnam. He was a stocky Southerner with the enthusiasm of a salesman and a seeming penchant for helping kids. Welcome to Boy Scout Troop 269, he told us.

As our new Scout master, Boyd donned his uniform with military fervor, and he expected the same of us. He was our leader, and his mission was to turn a bunch of scrawny, pubescent 12-year-olds into men.

I’m sure he taught us how to tie knots. He helped us embrace Resusci-Annie. And he showed us how to cook on an open fire, rain or shine, winter or summer. To this bunch of sixth graders, he was a leader’s leader.

Right up until the day we went for an all-day hike, armed only with day-packs and walking sticks, that is. That’s when Boyd, dressed in his military camouflage pants, led us running through the forest chasing Charlie. For a brief flash, I believe he pictured himself back in a Far Eastern jungle with a platoon of new draftees. So much for this leader’s leader.

Needless to say, we never managed to catch up with any elusive Viet Cong in forests around Pittsburgh. And as far as I can recall, Boyd never did escape the parallel world in which he lived, even as we continued to follow his lead.

But, as I look back, this Picasso-esque Boy Scouting experience does offer some rather interesting insight into what leadership should or should not provide. And it’s something business owners need to consider — whether you live in Allegheny County or not — as we approach the subject of this month’s cover story, the county executive election. Consider the following:

Motive — Clearly, Boyd agreed to lead the troop with lofty intentions. I believe he truly wanted to help the boys in their struggle for maturity. What he resorted to, though, was a way to painlessly relive those war-time memories which no doubt reshaped the rest of his life.

That obsession with the past diminished his ability to lead kids into the future. And what did we know? We got to play war with a real veteran every time we headed for the woods.

Moreover, older boys wrestled for leadership of the various patrols, or subgroups, of Scouts. They simply wanted the power to boss others around. Most of them matured to become high school bullies.

The motivation to lead should come from a passionate desire to change or greatly enhance what is. And it’s a willingness to roll up your sleeves and serve the greater good of your constituents. It shouldn’t be a popularity contest, nor should it serve as fuel for some power kick.

It’s not about power or control or even a desire to grasp a sense of immortality as you leave your legacy on a building or park named after you. It’s about making things better through your ideas and motivating others to greatness.

Vision — How can you possibly effect change and motivate others to greatness if your sense of vision is one of Charlie from your active imagination? Leadership is all about seeing far past what is, envisioning what could be, and then effectively convincing others to help pursue your dream.

Leaders without vision are administrators, and they manage; they don’t lead. Indeed, the status quo may prove acceptable to administrators, but not to true leaders.

The plan — Leaders with a vision but no plan to realize that vision are dreamers. Capturing Charlie by chasing shadows with sticks — and in Pennsylvania woods — does not constitute a plan. Leaders must serve as strategic big-picture thinkers, getting past the identification of problems to offer viable, realistic solutions.

Nobody will change the county’s property tax assessment system or reputation of patronage and cronyism by simply recognizing the need for change.

The followers — Just as a leader must be held accountable for his or her actions when it comes to motives, vision and strategic planning, some responsibility rests on the shoulders of the followers as well. Don’t support or follow a leader without vision or a plan.

You’re asking for trouble in this county executive race if you choose to vote only by party affiliation without considering character and integrity, charisma, presence as the public persona of the region — and the desire and a plan to aggressively foster growth and prosperity. Being Democrat or Republican guarantees nothing by itself.

In the end, whom you pick to guide the county into the next millennium will determine whether the region succeeds or fails in this unique opportunity to reap the benefits of the new Home Rule Charter. And make no mistake: Change is the order of the day.

If the leader you choose suddenly decides to lead you through the woods to chase Charlie, the best you can do is drop your sticks and go home. As for me and my scouting buddies, we had a lot of growing up to do.

Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN.