Coach Blanco- Lead Where You Are?


When I became a first spouse, I would never have imagined that I would meet a peer like this.  But I sure am glad I did.  It’s been cool meeting a first dude, first guy, and a former first hunk.  But my vote for first gentleman of the decade goes to the first coach, Raymond Blanco of Louisiana.  I think it’s fair to say that after his wife Governor Kathleen Blanco leaves office at the end of this year, all of his fellow spouses will remember him with the deepest fondness. 

I’d guess Coach is in his early 70s, a burly guy, with a hearty laugh (often aimed at his “friends” in Texas).  Coach shoots straight and pulls no punches.  A football coach turned college dean of students, it’s easy to imagine him chewing out a player or hugging a big lineman or yelling exuberantly after a big win.  He’s the kind of guy whose players and advisees come back sometimes after decades to thank him for directing them onto a life path.  He and Kathleen raised six children, she served two terms as lieutenant governor, and you would think those two things would prepare them for just about any leadership roles.  

But what could prepare you for Hurricane Katrina?  Oh, I know, a million Monday morning quarterbacks told Louisiana and the world a thousand things the Blancos – as well as the Bush’s, the Nagins, the FEMAs, the Army Corp of Engineers, the Congress, etc. – could have and should have done, before, during, and after the storm hit.  But face it: can you imagine having the scope of responsibility that the Governor of Louisiana had in late August of 2005?  Can you imagine absorbing the heartache and the rage and the fear, while attacking thousands upon thousands of problems – systemic, structural, critical, architectural, financial, political?  And can you imagine being a husband of 43 years, and watch your wife assailed by just about everybody for just about everything – even while she is pouring every ounce of her heart and mind and body into making life work again?  Perhaps, sometimes endurance itself is heroic leadership.  I admire Coach’s persistence and love.  

I was blown away to hear the sincerity of his wife as she shared her parting words with her fellow governors.  Because I have heard and read countless accounts of how terrible the devastation was and is, I was so impressed to hear the way she talked about Louisiana’s amazing opportunity to create greatness out of the devastation!  After all she and Louisiana have been through, I found her faith uplifting. 

Well, the Blancos represent the wildly extreme example of the reality that we must all lead where we are.  In the vast majority of cases, whether we are parents or teachers, pastors or politicians, we cannot pick and certainly cannot control the environments in which we lead.  We will often be judged as though we do control all of the variables.  As my friends at Quicken Loans advise, you’ve got to “ignore the noise” – even the noise of your own blame and self-doubt.  Lead where you are.  Control what you can. There is heroism in faith and persistence, in love and in hope.  You can’t control the context but you can 

Lead with your best self,   




  • Today’s article was great. Recently I had a discussion with a member of my management team. I was trying to explain to her that you have to start where a person is and lead them to where you want them to be.
    I believe that all managers need to learn that point. It will cut down on a lot of frustration.

  • Truer words have never been spoken! Your column today tells the reality of being a leader in today’s world whether it be as a parent, a department head, a government official or a soldier. Leaders in this day and age must lead with purpose, hope, faith in themselves and others and with a sense of mission that does not respond to opinion polls and negativity. We have many great leaders in this nation and many Monday night quarterbacks, but the leaders see the future and go for the goal. Leadership is never easy, but the fruits of the labor are the rewards.

  • Your thoughts today are great! It is so true that in the middle of the storm, whether it is environmental, physical, political or bureaucratic, it is difficult to keep the vision, sort important information from noise, and keep your own energy level high and positive. From my experience, I believe those who support us, coupled with a deep faith and prayer, are essential to making it through the storms. Having the sources such as coaches, friends, spouses, that I could honestly rely on for candid feedback during the peak of the storm’s roar, have been so important to knowing whether I am still leading in the right direction. They serve as a compass.

  • Dan…

    This is a really powerful missive for us today. The simple admonition to “lead where you are” is something we know.. if we choose to really examine ourselves… but sometimes it does get lost “in the noise” of the day to day.

    And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve faltered for the moment wondering “what will others think if I do this?”

    Thankfully I’ve 40 years of experience now to draw on that admonishes me with “… what will others think if you don’t?”

    Taking the lead with less thought about how decisions will affect your standing with others and more thought about what it does for the greater good is something we can all get on board with. Your column today pushes us along that path.

    Thanks, friend

  • Dan:

    Thanks for the timely article and insight today. We all, as you’ve stated, lead in some way. Faith and perisitence will always win out over placing blame, avoiding the heat, or doing nothing. Being an adult is hard work, the kids will find out soon enough 😉 Standing on what you believe and then doing what you believe is best for the greater good is how we ultimately will judge ourselves.That, to me, is true heroism.
    Keep us the encouraging work!

  • Dan:

    I am always grateful to read your comments on Monday mornings. Yesterday, however, I didn’t, because I was attending my uncle’s funeral. My Mom died just before Mother’s Day this past May, and this was her “baby brother”. It’s been a challenging year.

    Always you remind us that many (most) things are simply not within our control, and admonish us to “lead with our best selves” anyway. Your use of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 as an analogy was wonderful. “The amazing opportunity to create greatness out of devastation..” This is a concept, a faith that can be applied to every challenge I face: as a parent, as an educator, as a human being.\

    Thanks for your vision!

  • Your comment about the noise stirred me to submit this poem that I wrote during my Masters program in Organizational Design & Renewal at Seattle University. 🙂

    Those Little Whispers

    Listen to those little whispers,
    Gentle reminders,
    Hushed beneath your thoughts

    Forget the shouting, and
    Chaotic uproars
    The distraction of sudden noise

    Listen for the silent breath, as
    Slight breezes
    Peacefully sigh in your quiet mind

    Envision the tap, tap, tap, of
    Tiny pebbles
    Ever-growing circles blooming in still waters

    Listen … as your soul whispers,
    Peaceful wisdom,
    Where you are and where to grow

    ©Anne M. Jess
    February 2007
    Inspired by Steven Spielberg, in Rosh Hashanah Readings: Inspiration, Information, Contemplation, Edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, © 2006, Jewish Lights Publishing, page 62

  • Anne,
    Thanks for sharing your poem. Those who can retreat to a quiet place within are really blessed. I think some people don’t know how to find such a place, and all of us are challenged to find that quiet when the “hurricanes” are upon us. Here’s to the “whispering soul!”

  • Sometimes the “Katrinas” come when you least expect them, without warning. And while the first response may be to run and hide, if you are truly brave enough to lead, you just keep going forward, and pretty soon you find others following. Forward is the only safe direction. Satchell Paige said something like “don’t look back, something might be gaining on you”.
    Conversely, the blessings come unannounced too. It must be a real blessing for Governor Blanco to have Coach by her side.


  • Dan…Once again….you nailed it! We must know and acknowledge what our part is in anything we do and understand our own responsibilities. There is a philosophy that comes out of Seattle Washington….from the Pike Place Fish Market….that says…”everything starts with myself”….and you are saying the same thing.

    It is very easy to point the finger the other way. I too was not in favor of the war from the beginning. But I, also, did not raise my voice nearly loud enough. I must be honest and accept my part in what has happened or has not happened.

    To lead with one’s best self… must lead oneself as well – and perhaps firstly ( is that a word? “firstly” ? I guess it is now…). And…there is no “do as I say…not as I do….”.

    Incidently….the Pike Place Fish Market has a web-cam…go to…..and click on “web-cam”. Watch their approach on how they do business…It’s worth it!

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