Leaders Sometimes Stand Alone

Today’s lighthearted reflection begins with a story. I was sitting almost directly beneath my wife as she delivered the State of the State speech last week. Jack, our 9 year old son was next to me and our girls were next to him. We rose in standing ovation from time to time as we felt – as much as saw – the crowd about us rising to welcome a particularly good line or powerful point. Proud of my wife. Proud of their mom. Happy to support her.
About halfway into the speech, amidst the policy meat and potatoes, Jennifer delivered a line about how she will create a crash program to train 500 nurse trainers, who in turn will train 3,000 new nurses. For some reason, unbeknownst to us, Jack vaulted to his feet, clapping thunderously. I glanced at him, amused. One of his sisters did what siblings do at times like this, saying, “Jack, what are you doing standing up? You’re the only one standing.” 
He stole quick glances, realized he was having an “emperor’s new clothes moment” and slid back down into his chair. Just as he was sinking though, I was rising as were many folks around me. Some might have arisen because they were hospital advocates or fired up about this program to retrain workers, but I’m pretty sure most of us were rising to give Jack some cover. It felt like the strange, silent movement of a herd encircling a brash young one who’d ventured out past the herd’s safe boundaries. 
In the car, we joked about it. Jack’s very good natured and took the ribbing with grace and laughter. With apologies for my need to find a lesson in — well, just about everything — I told Jack and his sisters: hey, that’s what leaders do. They stand up. And I pointed out to them that that’s what followers do, too: they stand. People are impressed with courage and independence and they will rise, even if they’re not so fired up about something, but just because a leader cares so much. 
We’re still trying to figure out just what lit Jack’s fuse, but in the meantime we’re thanking him for a good laugh and a live example of the courage to
Lead with your best self,

  • Dan,
    Great story. I plan on sharing with the management team at Battle Creek Health System. Not because of the health connection, but because of the “stand up for what you believe” message.


    Pat Garrett
    Battle Creek Health System

  • “Atta boys” to Jack who, at 9, can see the immense return on investment by training 500 individuals to be nurses so they can, in turn, train 3,000. When I heard that, while watching on TV at home, my response (very positive) could not be seen or heard by the Govenor or anyone present for her speech. Thanks, Jack, for standing up for all of us who, likewise reacted, but couldn’t be seen or heard. MRL

  • That is why I am proud to be a part of an organization that stands alone–CAUSE! Michigans P.T.I. under IDEA. Citizens Alliance to Uphold Special Edcuation -Often we are the only person supporting the parent of a child with disabilities at the Individaulized Education Plan Meeting. We advocate to help and teach caring parents with information,skills and assistance so that their child’s needs are met. Congradulations for having a son ” who stand up for what he believes”. After all he has good role models!!

  • Dan,

    A great story of stepping forward, and of motivating others to follow. As your own daughters can attest, we try to teach our campers to do the same thing, especailly when working on defensive drills on a hot July afternoon. Your story reminds me to tell our players not be afraid to step out of the pack and encourage their teammates to push themselves as hard as they can. They need to understand that others will follow their lead, and even if they don’t, it is still the right thing to do. Thanks for the wonderful example.

    Todd German
    The McCracken Basketball Camp

  • Dan, your “Emperor’s New Clothes” reference was spot-on. A trap of leadership for many of us is arrogance. We too easily begin to believe that we’re out in front – and our eyes don’t see much if we’ve left people behind. Kids, poor, uneducated, old, foreign-speaking . . . do we think we know more than they do? I know I fall into this often. In our January 25th “Every Person Counts” campaign to count the unsheltered homeless, we discovered the real experts to be the homeless themselves. It was we “experts” who learned that helping them lead was the most effective strategy.

    So Jack gave us all a couple of things to think about – in ourselves as leaders. Standing alone is one of them. Another is that wisdom and courage are innate EVERY human; the effective leader sees every person as gifted – especially the ones that get filtered out as to small, to old, too uneducated, etc.

    Maybe, by the way, they all rose to applaud JACK!


  • Good message about leading. I would like to share with you a concern about the program that lead to Jack’s stand.

    The solution is not as simple as the announced resource commitment implies.This is a crisis and I am so pleased to see our Governor give it such importance. The average nurse educator is 55 years old. The average RN is 48.

    As a nurse and strong advocate for the profession I hope the Governor and her audience understand the educational preparation it takes to become a nursing eductor.Nursing educators are professors not trainers. In order to teach in the classroom as a nursing instructor you must have a Master’s in Nursing Science at a minimum. To instruct in a clinical setting requires a minimum of a Bachelor’s in Nursing Science.Most RNs in Michigan are associates degree prepared and can not teach in any capacity.

    The investment of resources to prepare more nursing professors is welcome news.

    • As an RN who has worked with and led nurses over almost two decades, I have actually found that the nurses who are Associate Degree prepared tend to be much better clinical nurses than those who have spent much more time in theory while preparing for their BSN or advanced degrees.
      In today’s world, where the stated goal is to have BSN preparation as entry level for nurses, and yet when we have such a nursing shortage (and the future only looks bleaker), perhaps we should be training Associate Degree RNs to be the Nursing Instructors.
      The Michigan RNs who are Associate Degree prepared would be wonderful clinical instructors, however they are not allowed to teach due to poorly thought out legal constraints. We should allow those who have been doing the caring teach the caring! Nursing is “High Tech and High Touch” – and AD RNs are wonderful at it!

  • Dan… I was in the same row on the other side of the aisle. I missed Jack’s “moment” but was told about it by someone else after the State of the State was over. The comment my friend made was more about a Dad who stood up to “fly cover” for a son than anything else. We remarked on how important that is… how we teach our young ones about what’s important by what WE do.

    I’m so proud to know you and Jack and I hope you’ll keep sending these little missives to us all. It really helps in the important work of finding balance and knowing what really counts. All the more so as I transition to DLEG.

    Best, my friend.

  • Thanks for sharing this wonderful story and as a registered nurse and a health care advocate I applaud Governor Granholm and Jack for his excuberant support.

  • Go, Jack! He may have been alone at that moment on the floor, but I know he wasn’t alone in responding to the Governor’s remark: sitting on my sofa, watching on TV, I applauded and yelled “YES!”
    Wish they’d had the camera on Jack – what a shot that would’ve been!

  • My wife Gina the nurse would have jumped up too. Way to go Jack. You will lead yourself someday, and have the courage to again stand alone when you need to.

  • Congratulations to Jack. A captain whether of a football team, basketball team or a platoon of infantry, takes the initiative to motivate those he was designated to lead. In many instances, an individual without the benefit of a title accepts the challenge to be first. What is extraordinary about Jack is the subtle example of leadership he displayed at a young age, the chain reaction his action created, and his absence of fear when he stood up.

    Jim Amar

  • You just never know what Jack will do when his mother is making an important speech! I still remember the story of Jack, in diapers, having a bit of an accident during another speech.

  • I applaud Jack and his mother, as well. As our union represents Sparrow Hospital, I know there is a nurse shortage and we need all the help we can get. Perhaps Jack is aware of this, also. Our CEO has started a program called “Tender Loving Care.” A good leader can only lead with his best foot forward when he has the resources in which to do it. This program is working and will continue to work with enough staff to proceed. Now we know why Jack stood up.

  • Dan,

    Great site and I applaud Jack! Teach our young ones to be leaders. I teach Taylor, our eight year-old daughter every day to be a leader, not a follower. Remember, the lead dog gets the best view.

    Michael Jordan played his first seven seasons in the NBA without winning an NBA championship. Along came Phil Jackson in 1989 as coach of the Chicago Bulls and he explained to Jordan that he had to lead the other Bulls players. That he had to share the ball and trust in his teammates who just stood around and watched him perform.

    When Jordan became a leader of the Bulls, they began to win championships.

    Steve Finamore
    Men’s Head Basketball Coach
    Jackson Community College
    Jackson, Michigan

  • I just discovered your site and find inspiration in the little moments that make even those most scrutinized “real”. The Jack story such a nugget of family life – thanks for sharing!

  • Regarding your comment about leaders standing alone, I’m reminded that many people stand alone for many reasons. Business leaders, for one, often find themselves with ideas that put them alone in front of the pack. Think of Ray Kroc trying to sell the franchise concept in the 50s, or Bill Gates convincing the masses about the benefits of home computing in the 70s and early 80s. Who today doesn’t marvel at the market power of McDonald’s or Microsoft?

    These stories remind us that people with original ideas and original thinking WILL stand alone. It’s the courage and conviction of such people — whether business owners, activists, scholars or teachers — that help keep America great.

    Thanks for all you do in bring this forum to the budding leaders of today!

  • I saw Jack shoot up from his seat, wildly clapping for what his mother, the Governor, said about training nurses. His excitement and courage were contagious. And it was so obvious that his big sisters were there for him. What a beautiful moment all around. Musette

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