by Jay Love
In last week’s post, we peeked into one of Slingshot SEO’s leadership development processes — the quarterly feedback session. I also introduced Alston, my new friend, who is now back in his home country of Africa attending two universities to achieve double majors. He’s doing all that while continuing his participation in the YMCA of Liberia’s leader development program.
One of the first things I noticed about Alston is his attention to people. It did not matter whether Alston was talking to me, a local YMCA executive or even my 3-year-old granddaughter, he listened intently. In most cases, he would later recap the lessons he learned from each encounter with me or another member of my family. I was personally amazed by what he gleaned and then reiterated in those lessons.
Perhaps having English as one of his many languages allowed him to focus more than the average person, but I think it was his genuine quest for knowledge, and more importantly, understanding.
During his first week here as an exchange student, Alston remarked about the many bookcases in our home and asked me about some of the contents. When I shared that many of them were leadership focused, he wanted me to explain what some of them were about. By the time I was summarizing the fifth book, I knew we had to do something to help his large thirst for such knowledge. I asked if he could find such books in his country and he quickly informed me that would be nearly impossible. Needless to say, I said goodbye to a few of my Tom Peters and other author favorites. (Fortunately, all but one was in paperback, so we could keep Alston under the baggage weight limits for international flights!)
After the first week or two living in my house, Alston noticed on a couple of occasions that I was heading out to play golf with friends or business associates. He asked if he could join me during my next outing. Silly me … I thought it was just curiosity. As we were finishing the front nine and walking down the 10th fairway, I asked Alston if he was having fun. He would drop the extra ball I gave him when we arrived at a green and putt out with us. He always had a huge smile even if it took him five to six putts to find the bottom of the cup!
He said yes, it was great fun, almost as good as soccer. But it turned out he had another reason for joining me besides the game and my occasional jokes. What he said blew me away: He shared he hoped to be a leader in his country one day, and thought it might be good to know how the game is played so he could visit leaders of other countries and spend several uninterrupted hours with them. (Bill Clinton would have been proud of his logic!)
By the way, I laughed the hardest when he asked me on the third hole if the highest or lowest score was winning. (He was not sure based upon a couple of my playing partners that day, which will remain nameless … )
The final lesson from Alston centers on developing future leaders. My daughter, an elementary school teacher, invited Alston to speak to a couple of her classes. In the magical 30 minutes he spent with the students, Alston opened their eyes to the potential of being leaders themselves. He let them know the odds against such success occurring in his country for children their age and how many of them overcame those odds. Based upon the countless questions the kids asked him, I believe the message came through loud and clear!
We will surely miss Alston. I am not sure who took away more from his visit —Alston or my family and me. I did promise to visit him in Africa when he becomes a leader there. He quickly reminded me to bring my golf clubs!