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A LEADERS OR A JERK?

By: Terry L. Sumerlin

Some years ago, five other instructor candidates and I were being trained to teach a course on public speaking and human relations. As the grueling hours in the lab classes began to take a toll, one

Some years ago, five other instructor candidates and I were being trained to teach a course on public speaking and human relations. As the grueling hours in the lab classes began to take a toll, one candidate summed up the session on leadership with the following words: ďItís really very simple. Do you want to be a leader or do you want to be a jerk?Ē

Many times Iíve thought about that question. We all know a few jerks. I expect Iíve been one a few times. However, in spite of the fact there are plenty of men and women who are willing to wear titles (boss, owner, president, supervisor), and who are ready to give orders and issue mandates, there arenít that many leaders. Yet the benefits of being a leader, as opposed to a jerk, are dramatic.

In business it means fewer turnovers, less stress and less conflict. It also means increased customer satisfaction and increased productivity. In business, as well as in the home, leadership produces a spirit of goodwill, and fosters cooperation. In view of such benefits, letís examine three attitudinal differences between leaders and jerks.

TRUST BANK VS. BANKRUPT

Behind one of the barber chairs in my 48-year old barbershop is a drop bin that at one time was used for dirty towels. It is now used as a drop for money collected from vending machines. It has become a type of bank into which regular deposits are made. However, as owner of the shop, Iím also making deposits of another type Ė a type much more important, involving staff and customers. These are deposits into a trust bank.

It seems one of the great tragedies of business is that jerks may have followers, though having little or nothing in a trust bank. Such folks possibly had a positive balance when they took the role, but through large withdrawals became overdrawn.

Deposits, on the other hand, include qualities such as integrity. Leaders need to be the sort that if they say itís going to rain, you can put the tubs out. Itís going to rain! Also, true leaders are consistent, impartial and optimistic. And when they have problems, they tend to pass them up instead of down. Few things destroy the confidence of followers more than jerks who always tell them their problems. Conversely, leaders confide in those above them in the chain of authority, and never whine to followers.

ENTHUSIASM VS. EXCITEMENT

Leaders are also enthusiastic. Jerks, on the other hand, have fits of excitement. From one day to the next, their followers are never quite sure who is going to show up Ė Jekyll or Hyde.

Because enthusiasm is such a challenge to maintain and excitement so easy to experience, many have not even considered the difference between the two or the value of one over the other. Actually, excitement is the kind of emotion we have at sports events. It is solely dependent upon circumstances. Enthusiasm, though, comes from within. It is inner desire, fervor or spirit.

Some time ago, I read a billboard advertising a certain bank. It said, ďEnthusiasm runs rampant in our bank lobbies.Ē What images does this bring to mind? Do you see the bank president, the tellers and the loan officers in party hats, jumping up and down and blowing on party favors? If so, you see excitement. If on the other hand, you see folks who believe in what theyíre doing, who call customers by name, who are eager to serve and who have a winning attitude; you understand enthusiasm.

Though excitement can be legitimately experienced by leaders as well as jerks, enthusiasm, by its very nature, is cultivated by leaders and then nurtured in their followers.

SENSE OF HUMOR VS. SELF-CENTEREDNESS

Among the most important qualities of a leader is a sense of humor. We must not take life or ourselves too seriously.

I often tell audiences that, as a speaker, Iím somewhat like the cross-eyed javelin thrower. I donít set any records but with humor I do keep the crowd alert.

Yet, itís really more than that. Humor sells ideas, it relaxes, it deflects criticism and it bonds.

President Reagan often put people at ease with humor. When our nation was anxious over the possibility of losing another president to an assassin, Reagan looked up at his team of surgeons and said, ďI sure hope youíre all Republicans.Ē He asked the nurse who was holding his hand, as a means of comforting him, ďDoes Nancy know about us?Ē

Reagan even used humor to deal with criticism. When asked if he had once said he would resign when his memory failed, his answer was, ďWhen did I say that?Ē

Similarly, all good leaders use humor. It doesnít have to be something that has people rolling on the floor. It just needs to show them that we have our minds on someone other than ourselves and on problems other than our own.

Along this line, just because we are leaders doesnít mean we canít be fun to be around Ė or that we canít poke a little fun at ourselves. Every time I tell audiences that I graduated in the half of the class that made the top half possible, Iím simply telling them what they already know: I donít have all the answers. They respond by laughing, learning and bonding. I lead Ė they follow. What else is there?

BARBER-OSOPHY: Leadership is earned Ė as well as learned.

Copyright 2003, Sumerlin Enterprises.

Terry L. Sumerlin, owner of J.B.'s Barber Shop in San Antonio, Texas, is known as "The Barber-osopher," and appears nationally as a humorist and motivational speaker.

Permission is granted for you to copy this article for distribution as long as the above copyright and contact information is included. Please reference or include a link to www.barber-osophy.com.

About the Author

I am Terry L. Sumerlin, a humorist and motivational speaker, author of the book "Barber-osophy," and columnist for the San Antonio Business Journal.



"Knowledge is power. It takes a long time to harness enough power to even talk about it." - Don Juan, speaking in "Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan", by Carlos Castaneda, 1972

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