[su_dropcap style=”flat”]T[/su_dropcap]HROUGHOUT MY LIFE, there have been many great leaders that have influenced and shaped the way I am today. Some, like my father, I knew personally, and others, well, a passing experience that had a profound impact upon my view of the world. When I peruse the many articles on leadership and what it takes to be a great leader, two memories arise from the depths that I want to share.
President Kennedy was my father’s idol. My father placed a great amount of hope in this leader of our country. The day Kennedy was shot, my father rushed home, grabbed me around my waist, pulled the chair up close to the new TV he had recently purchased for our home, turned it on, and kept telling me, “You have to watch this! You have to watch this!”
Sitting on my father’s lap, being held close against him, I could feel the shock in his body and hear the devastation in his voice. The footage of Kennedy being shot played over and over, while tears rolled down my father’s cheeks. I’m sure the memory of Kennedy agreeing to write the forward to my father’s book, “New Mexico’s Troubled Years,” and sitting in the oval office with him while he wrote a personal note in the book for each of us children, (there were 7 of us) must have been playing throughout my father’s mind while witnessing this tragedy.
Not too long after the assassination of President Kennedy, my father hosted a party at our family home for the new president, Lyndon Johnson. My younger sister and I were told that when we came home from our ballet lessons that we were not allowed to go into the living room. Even at 3 and 5 years old, that was a challenge we had to take on. When we arrived home, the living room had been transformed into a banquet room. There were long tables covered with long white linens and gourmet food arranged buffet style that we just had to taste.
Being the youngest of seven children, we learned how to “not get caught” by our mother when we were going to break one of her rules. While peeking around the corner, we saw our chance to dive under the long tablecloths that almost touched the ground and scurried towards the middle, thinking this would be the best spot not to get caught. We watched as feet came up to the table and then walked away. Finally, I saw my opening and reached my hand out to try and grab some food. All of a sudden, there were two very large black shoes inches from my arm. I quickly snatched my arm back in, when a large hand grasped the linen, raised it up, and peeked underneath. We were caught! There was President Johnson, smiling at us. “Hi girls. What are you doing underneath the table?” I explained to him that we were forbidden to be here and we were hiding from my mother. He then inquired, “What do you want?” We told him some of the yummy food. He made a plate of food for us and while bending down and handing it to us with a smile, the all too familiar delicate feet in high heel shoes of my mother were standing next to the big black shoes of President Johnson. We heard my mother say, “President Johnson, what are you doing?” While holding our breaths, we heard him explain to my mother that he was helping us. Our cover broken, President Johnson asked my mother if my sister and I could join the party which we did. As we mingled with the adults, I kept looking at this man who continued to come over to us and ask if we wanted anything else.
Here are a few things that I learned from my father, President Kennedy and President Johnson. First, from my father, I learned always ask and never think that someone, just because of status, is unapproachable. From President Kennedy, I learned that a great leader inspires, is open to saying yes, and that a leader is never too important or too busy not to take the time and make someone’s dream come true. From President Johnson, I learned that, to a great leader, no one is too small or unimportant not to be asked what do you want or need and then metaphorically welcome them to feast at your table. As our constitution reminds us, all of us are created equal which equates to treating everyone with dignity and respect regardless of status. I am honored to have been influenced by these three leaders, and am aware that what might seem a small gesture could have a powerful impact upon their life.