Difference Makers

Difference Makers

Standing at the side of the pool was a little unnerving.  The task was simple – swim across the pool, demonstrating the “crawl” stroke.  Swimming wasn’t something I did much of growing up in Detroit in the 50’s and 60’s.  Frankly, the dog paddle had been my best stroke — until I got to the Naval Academy.

After carefully eyeing the “mark” I was to hit on the other side of the pool, I dove in.  The water seemed a little cooler than normal – but my mind quickly jumped to the task at hand.  I was off and determined to get this right.

After swimming for what seemed like an eternity – I heard yelling, “Berg, Berg – come back, come back!”  I came to an abrupt halt and looked around.  I had gotten half way across the pool and then somehow I seemed to have taken a slow turn to port – headed — shall I say –“out to sea”.

When I returned, the instructor was waiting for me – along with my classmates.

“Your stroke looked pretty good, but where were you going? Were you swimming with your eyes closed?”   No one missed the question.  The laughter was spontaneous.

Slowly the words came, “Yes sir — I didn’t want the water to burn my eyes!”  The embarrassment was cutting.

“Next time – keep them open,” he said rather calmly.  “A proficient ‘crawl’ is one thing — open eyes quite another.”

 Though it was painful at the time, my “swim to nowhere” taught me two valuable lessons.  First, keep your eyes open and focused on the “mark” – the prize, so to speak.  If you don’t, you will surely lose your way.  Secondly, that it is important to have people willing to call you back when you are off course – when heading to “who knows where”.   My experience at the natatorium was a real difference maker for me.  Not only did I need to open my eyes, I also needed to open my mind about swimming.  And without a coach and classmates willing to get back me on track, the change in course would not have happened.  They were difference makers.

A growing darkness hangs over our world.  It is a darkness that dehumanizes and destroys all that it envelopes.   Far too many people seem more interested in looking good rather than doing good; closing their eyes hoping it all goes away hoping for the best. The call for leadership (being a difference maker) has never been greater.  Despite thousands of books, tapes, video presentations, internet sites, courses, and organizations dedicated to leadership development, leaders who are making a positive and enduring difference remain in short supply.

The heart of leadership is the demonstrated character of the leader — character shaped by virtues and beliefs deeply imbedded in one’s inner being.  They serve as one’s inner compass and in the end, direct actions, shape character, and impact (for good or bad) one’s sphere of influence.  The character of the leader determines the kind of leader he/she will be.

The Severn Leadership Group (SLG) believes that the future can be better than the present and that we have a moral and personal responsibility to make it so.  To that end the mission of the SLG is to inspire others to live lives of selfless courage and service to others and not self.

The work of the SLG is centered around a foundational template for both leadership and followership, based on the leadership paradigm lived by Jesus of Nazareth.  At the core of this template is the call to “love” one another, to serve others – not self, to seek the common good, to be living examples of the “golden rule”.

This foundation is not simply a list of principles, advice, or good practices (which at times can be helpful), but rather a basis for personal and professional development – both as a follower and leader.  It is meant to be a solid base or reference to which one’s “inner compass” can be set and maintained – irrespective of one’s culture, context, faith, ethnicity, or background.

If the curtain of darkness is to be shattered, it will only be shattered by the difference makers (leaders and followers) who are willing to be lights of service, seekers of the common good, who speak the truth, demonstrate compassion, make tough decisions, care for others and build their capacity to serve.  Difference makers share a vision that builds new relationships, breaks barriers, demonstrates a willingness to say, “No,” when “No” is needed, and builds exceptional teams with sustained outstanding results.

This is not a time for us to “close our eyes” and hope for the best.  More than ever we need people who are willing to yell, “Come back!  Come back!” before it is too late.

In the final analysis without courageous leaders and followers, who are willing to step up and make a difference, we perish.