I went to my first youth leadership conference in upstate New York when I was 15 years old. It was called RYLA – Rotary Youth Leadership Academy. It changed my life – literally. Over two hundred youth from all over Rockland County came together for one week to learn about leadership. Our closing keynote speaker was a gentleman named Tom France. Little did I know that Mr. France would become my mentor and close friend until he died at the age of 84, thirty years later.
Tom France shared that there are three types of people in the world. There are Leaders. There are Followers. And there are Critics.
And then Mr. France said something that I never forgot, “The question I’m leaving you with is……which one are you going to be?”
It was then, thirty-three years ago, that I first understood that leadership is a choice. That one chooses to be a leader. One chooses to be a follower. And one chooses to be a critic.
I decided on that humid August summer day back in 1985 that I wanted to become a leader. That I chose to be a leader.
I didn’t know back in 1985 that not only did Tom France’s quote change my life, but it would set the course of my life. I didn’t know then that I would dedicate my entire career – my entire life – to learning and teaching the impact of leadership.
Three decades later, Tom France’s words are still relevant today. There are indeed three types of people in the world – Leader’s, Follower’s and Critics. I’ve thought deeply about these three types of people. And I have expanded upon them.
It’s Not My Problem
Critics go through life with an “it’s not my problem” attitude. It is always someone else’s problem. Someone else’s fault. And someone else’s job.
“It’s not my problem” folks are usually self-centered, narcissistic and live with an “it’s all about me” philosophy. They blame their problems on others. They point their fingers. They go through life not doing the “right” thing and perhaps not doing the “wrong” thing. They just go through life doing “their” thing. They think about themselves before they think of others. These folks are the cancer in your organizations. They are unhealthy to any culture. To any society. Identify them in your organizations. And for your organization to thrive, you may want to find a way to get rid of them.
If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
Followers go through life with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. It’s always someone else’s responsibility to fix it. Someone else’s job to identify the problem. These folks follow orders. They take direction. But they never create change. They are worker bees. Organizations need worker bees to get things done. But followers are just that, followers. And I don’t know many successful organizations that are built on the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy.
Leave things Better than you Found them
Leaders go through life with a “leave it better than I found it” attitude. It is their role, their duty, their obligation, their calling and their job to not only make their organizations better, but make the world better. They are change agents. They are impact players. And they live their lives (and their careers) with a heart-led leadership philosophy. It is not about them. It is about serving others. Successful organizations know how to identify leaders. And they know how to retain them.
Jack Welsh, former Chairman & CEO of General Electric was famous for always firing the bottom ten-percent of his organizations. He knew the bottom 10% is where cancer grew. And he knew that he would never build a Fortune 10 company with an “it’s not my problem” or “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” workforce. Jack Welsh demanded leadership. He surrounded himself with “leave it better than you found it” people. And he became one of the world’s greatest CEO’s because of it.
Tom France did not run a large organization like Jack Welsh. He ran a small company in Suffern, New York. He was in the heating and cooling business – HVAC, as they call it today. He spent his career fixing heating units and air conditioners. But he spent his lifetime teaching others what is most important – that leadership is a choice you make. And great leaders leave things better than they found them.