Leadership Starts Early

Leadership starts early in life. Even though we normally attribute the behaviors associated with leadership to more senior-level and experienced executives, the underlying traits are often identifiable much earlier. This is not to say that there are not many later bloomers, just that some people show a natural aptitude for leadership early through their character and demeanor. While it would be tempting to cite stories from the early lives of U.S. presidents or the CEOs of nameplate companies, I am going to go out on a limb instead and predict a future leader.

When weather permits, I drive past the gym in the morning and head for Pinnacle Mountain. If I am out early enough, I can go up the east side and down the west, returning on the base trail in about an hour and 10 minutes. I get a great workout, the joy of time alone in nature and a little morning inspiration in the form of the view from the top.

One Saturday morning in April, I arrived at the peak to find a young woman there scrubbing off graffiti. Since litter and graffiti send my blood pressure through the roof, I thanked her for her efforts on behalf of the park. She grinned at me a little sheepishly, which is when I realized that she could be no more than about 16 years old. Then the rest of the story came out.

It seems that she had been up there a few weeks ago with her boyfriend, who felt it necessary to record his affection for her with a black indelible pen. What she did not know was that her father was also coming up the mountain and that he would see the markings when the ink was barely dry. That night he left stern orders for the removal of the offending mark. It seems he was leaving on business the next day and was clear that it should be handled before he returned.

However, with the rebellion that only a teenager can muster, she told me that she had decided to ignore her dad’s instructions, safe in the knowledge that he ascended Pinnacle only about once a year. Yet here she was, scrubbing hard at a handwritten message: “Mark loves Ashley, 2006.”

“Well, Ashley,” I said, “I guess your dad is due back soon and you decided you had better do what he asked.”

She motioned toward the offending graffiti and said, “My name is not Ashley, it is Taylor, and my dad has been back for weeks. I just decided that it did not matter that he would not know. And as long as I was hauling this bucket and brush to the top, I might just as well scrub the rest of the rocks.” And she had. When I looked I could see freshly scrubbed patches all the way to the end of the precipice.

So a teenager decides not only to do the right thing, despite the opportunity to use stubbornness to get one up on her Dad, and determines that she might as well go above and beyond the call of duty while she’s at it — just because it is the right thing to do? My prediction: Look for a young woman named Taylor on the Arkansas Business “40 Under Forty” list in about 15 years or so. She has already demonstrated character of the sort that attracts followers.

Originally published in Arkansas Business, June 26, 2006.