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... a personal story... Leadership that Shines Unexpected Solutions

Closing his shoeshine stand for the evening at the Grand Hyatt Washington, the man saw me and very pleasantly told me to sit down. I protested mildly, but I really did want my boots shined before the ASAE Summit Awards Dinner. Before he got his polish back out, he had already earned a generous tip.

To initiate conversation, I asked his opinion of the big Washington-Dallas game, but with a very pronounced accent, the shoeshine man said he really didn't care for American football - his sport was soccer and he also enjoyed karate. Born in France, he had left his home on Africa's Ivory Coast 17 years ago to come to the United States.

He then mentioned his son played basketball and began a story that kept me mesmerized until my boots were ready for an evening out.

His son was on a full scholarship at a nearby university. He had been recruited by several schools and talked about playing in the pros. But Dad had other plans. Only a few players make the pros. Dad's advice was to enjoy his four years and then go to medical school. The man said this with such conviction that I had little doubt that the son was a future doctor.

Admittedly, it is not so unusual for a man in his position to have a son that excelled in sports. And from the man's build, it was possible that he had also been an accomplished athlete.

The son was not his only child.

An older daughter had just received her undergraduate degree and was now in pharmacy school. He had surprised her at her college graduation with a brand new car-keeping his promise made four years before.

By now I was hooked. This man was an extraordinary individual.

I asked him how long he had been working at the Grand Hyatt, where I frequently stayed while visiting Washington. Eleven years, he replied, but he had actually had a shoe shine business managing multiple employees. Now, however, he was shining shoes himself to give himself more time to go back to school!

By now I knew nothing should surprise me, but I had to ask what he was studying. Again, he responded very gently that he had a master's degree and was pursuing a PhD in Macroeconomics! With his thick accent, it might have been "Micro," but it was out of my league either way.

During my time on the stand, I observed a steady stream of Hyatt employees pass by, some in uniform, others in business attire. To my knowledge, not one employee passed by without calling his name. He turned to give each one an equally friendly greeting. It was very apparent this was a man people not only liked but respected as well.

My mind wandered to the previous day and to a technology seminar sponsored by the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives (GWSAE). As we waited for one of the breakout session to begin, my tablemates and I traded business cards. One colleague noticing my tagline "Leadership and Management Consulting" asked if I taught "leadership."

Frankly, I'm not sure anyone can really teach leadership. I do, however, believe that leadership can be learned. And while some people also inherit stronger genes than others,

I have my doubts about "natural born leaders" as well.

Nor does being in a position of authority guarantee leadership. We all know people in high places who will never earn the respect of their people.

On the other hand, there are many skilled and dedicated

individuals who may not be the CEO or even a department head, but who are definitely leaders. They exhibit such characteristics as competence, vision, trustworthiness and credibility. These people have become leaders not by status, but by performance.

As I watched the man buff my boots to a high shine, I knew that I was in the presence of an authentic leader. I handed him the twenty-dollar bill with absolutely no intent of receiving change. For the past twenty minutes I had received a lesson in leadership that was worth much, much more.

I felt truly revitalized as I headed back to dress for the evening. Here was a very uncommon man doing a very common task, but for him it was merely a means to a greater end.

Leadership is not a place, but it can be found in unexpected places.

In the Grand Hyatt Washington, I found not only leader who literally shines, but an example of shining leadership as well.

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