Do You Know An Inspiring Leader?

In honor of this weekend's Final Four, here is a repurposed post from the Final Four weekend in 2011:

I love to read. In fact, if you can believe it is possible, I sometimes over read and send myself into a state of shock and awe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shock_and_awe). I will have 2 or 3 books in hand on a Friday afternoon and read them all by Monday morning. If the books are compelling enough, I send myself into a paradoxical state of wallowing and growth. I sit in this crazy space of dismay over who I am and of hope over who I can be, waiting for the next, better version of myself to emerge. Sometimes that takes a day, sometimes it takes a week. For some things, I am still waiting for my better self to emerge and it has been a long, long time. I still have hope, tough.

This weekend’s trio of books included The Inspiring LeaderWooden on Leadership, and Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life. I quickly read through Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life.  I marveled at the opportunity those who knew Coach Wooden had. He was a phenomenal fellow. My golden nuggets from that book include these items:

1.       Wooden’s definition of success: it is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

2.       It is up to each of us to become as good as we can become with the gifts and talents we have been given and in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

3.       Stay off other people’s ladders of success.

4.       Results don’t matter; effort does.

As I put down this first book, I wasn’t so much in shock or awe. I was more reflective of a life well lived. As I moved on to The Inspiring Leader, I began to wallow on page 8. For it is there that I was asked to list three leaders who truly inspired me: someone that caused me “to put forth extra effort, to be extremely creative, and to be doggedly persistent. Think of when work felt like it was a ‘cause’ or a ‘calling,’ and you smile when you think about it.” As I sat there, in my Friday night funk, I realized that I only knew of one person in my life who had truly inspired me. Her name: Nancy Walker. Her role: my high school volleyball coach.  I played my heart out for Coach Walker. We won a state championship my junior year. It was my one and only state championship. It wasn’t her first. It was one of many for her. I can’t tell you why I was inspired by Coach Walker – that was 30 years ago and the memories have long faded. I just was.

As I went to bed Friday night, I was disappointed that I didn’t have more inspiring leaders in my life.  At Saturday morning breakfast, I asked my husband what leaders in his life had inspired him. He, like me, had to really hunt and peck to come up with a few names. He came up with a high school volleyball  coach (another reason we are married – two peas in a pod) and a boss from 25 years ago. After much thought, Jim identified a lawyer in his firm, who is now deceased, as inspirational.

Had I missed out in life because I had not had the opportunity, as a peer, to work side-by-side with an inspiring leader, whose leadership lid is higher than my own? As I sat in my living room, in my stretchy pants, wallowing on the couch, the pregame show for the Final Four basketball games came on. During that show, the Buick Human Highlight Reel came on. The featured person: Eunice Kennedy Shriver. As I watched the story of how one woman single handedly reshaped the world of so many human beings; of how she believed everyone should have an oath so she wrote one on the way to the first games; and of how she believed that everyone should know they are amazing, regardless of physical and mental abilities and capabilities; I cried because I was so inspired by this incredible woman. Thank you CBS and Buick for showing me inspiration at its highest. And that started me thinking.

Possibly, my world of inspiring wasn’t so small. I was confusing an inspiring leader with inspiration. Couldn’t I just be inspired by the person, without a call to action for myself? By Sunday evening, using inspiration as the parameter and not just inspiring leaders, I found more inspirational people in my life. Inspiration, not necessarily inspiring leaders, were all around me. I have been inspired by my parents. They were born into poverty but refused to allow that situation to define them or their dreams. I was born with a rare illness that the doctors claimed would take my life in a few short years. However, my parents refused to believe. They committed to keeping me alive. I am inspired by their willingness to hope and dream and by their willingness to believe those hopes and dreams could come true.

I am inspired by my son Shep. Two years ago, at the age of 16, while away at boarding school, 12 hours from home, he had a near-death experience due to undiagnosed appendicitis. He missed about 10 days of school, and he was in the hospital for 6 of those days. He is lucky to be alive. His recovery was traumatic because the ruptured appendix went undiagnosed for 5 days. It would have been easy for Shep to fold up shop, come back to North Carolina and recover. He didn’t. He stuck it out, despite the pain, despite being behind in his school work. His determination and toughness inspired me. I am not sure I would have made the same choice.

I am inspired by my son Warren. His passion about tennis, his determination and rage to master the sport, and his discipline to do whatever it takes to be the best are inspiring. I don’t know many 15 year-olds who have committed time and effort like he has. Over a year ago, he decided sodas weren’t ideal for an elite athlete. He hasn’t touched one since. Over 3 months ago, he decided that he needed to be at about 12% body fat because that is ideal for elite athletes. He achieved that goal in about 6 weeks. Yes, Warren’s discipline and passion to live his dream inspire me.   

I am inspired by my husband. I am inspired by my brother Mike. I am inspired by my business partners Judy Johnson and David Houston. Yes, there are many people for me to be inspired by. And no, they don’t have to be celebrities. So who inspires you and why?

Busy finding new ways to inspire the world,

Dr. Tomi