Richard Fritzky – April 2016
To lead, in any fashion, is to first know who you are and I know that what I am today was, in my having survived when death seemed imminent, turned upside down and made over.
For once upon a time, my focus was upon jobs and jobs training and better transit systems and youth service projects and affordable housing and literacy and High Schools for Unwed Mothers and planning and employment and training commissions, TMAs, economic health and even a Northeast Midwest Leadership Council, but on the other side of Neisseria Meningitis and end stage renal disease and cancer and mercer, it is now upon faith and going to higher ground and striving to see the world as God does and serving those who suffer – physically, mentally, emotionally.
But my deep conviction that leadership can only be forged in a committed, relentless desire to serve has only been reinforced.
Oh, there are many pretenders and phonies out there who are driven by ego or greed or power, but true leaders look and long to serve only. They are open hearts and open souls who strive to make a difference — to heal the sick, to protect, to put the fires out, to save lives, to feed the hungry or to change the world which must begin and can only begin in serving someone, somewhere, somehow.
I was blessed to have been able to do some good stuff in the past and then when I was broken in half, placed on the cliff’s edge and made to suffer, survival demanded stretching higher and going deeper. I was reclaimed and on the other side of the abyss was the wonder of abiding faith and love and the discovery that I had new and altogether different contributions to make.
To lead is, in the end, to give of yourself, to fully commit, to strive every single day to be better than you were the day before. Dedication, passion, determination, sacrifice, commitment – leaders live in the crucible of such words. All in! No half measures!
In one of my books, A Pilgrim’s Song, I tell the story of Mary Varick, a disabled woman who served thousands of similarly disabled back in the day when they were called invalids, as in not valid, as in do not count, as in to be cast aside.
She took them out of their hospitals, homes and institutional prisons and gave them life. She led them to serve and to use their sufferings as instruments of grace and sacrifice and redemption. There is, in fact, no higher calling or purpose on this earth than in redeeming one another, for in so doing, one lifts high the cross and shares the burden that the Lord bears for all.
Another book of mine, What Must Needs Come – A Legacy of Gettysburg is a work in which I venture into the mind, heart and soul of a man, who was arguably the most beloved commander and leader in all of military history, General Robert E. Lee, the Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia. On the one day I focus upon, the 3rd day at Gettysburg, he asked 15,000 of his men to do the impossible.
In a numbing story of duty, sacrifice and service, of “last full measures of devotion, he asked them to march 1 mile, over an undulating valley in an open field into the teeth of the canisters and grapeshot of the more than 100 Union cannons that were going to rain hell down on them – into the teeth of the body and heart of the waiting Army of the Potomac.
In speaking of his men just before they set off across that field, General Lo Armistead, one of Pickett’s brigadiers, told a Colonel Freemantle, an emissary from the Royal Court of England that his 1800 men didn’t need a General to lead them. “Not a one will fail to go willingly,” he emphatically said. “Not a one will fail to do their duty – not a one needs me to even give the command.”
And as they got blistered and broken in a horrific, kaleidoscopic bloody fury, they maintained formation and continued to dress and reform on each other as if on dress parade with the bands playing and the locals cheering. Hundreds of Union soldiers, who were waiting to kill them, wrote afterwards that they were stunned by and in awe of the control and commitment of the Rebels, in awe of a discipline and a courage that language could not do justice to describing.
And Lee himself would ask, “Just where do such men come from”?
Just where did they come from? Well, the simple truth and the simple answer is that they came from him. They were his men and he had been found worthy of their esteem and devotion. They would, quite literally, die for him and ever so many of them would, on this day, do precisely that. And yet, they did not need a leader to lead them for that was what they had already become. Leaders, you see, fashion more leaders.
Lee’s leadership style was value driven and his very prescription for living – was perhaps best defined, when a young woman approached him years later at a reception while he was serving as president of what would become today’s Washington and Lee University. She simply asked, “What must I do to lead a good life”?
Lee cupped both of her hands in his, leaned closer to her and softly but firmly responded, “Deny yourself”.
Just two words, ‘Deny yourself’, the two words that defined his life and that suggested that it is to the extent that you are willing to sacrifice all and to pour yourself out completely that one will come to know just what kind of leader they are capable of being.
To lead is to serve, to commit and to get the hell out of your own head and self. It is to be for the other first above all.
A leader gives a damn about the dream, the ends and those in his or her charge. So give a damn!
Reach higher, stretch further, go deeper. There are no limits, my friends. Imagine it, envision it, reach for it and don’t ever – ever – quit on yourself or on your dreams.
As my old friend, Henry David Thoreau long ago told us, “Build your castles in the air. Then put in your foundations.”