Welcome to blog one of Leadership and Main where our vision is to help community leaders make the turn from ordinary to extraordinary! Community leadership is the ability and willingness to use your influence to better others and the world you live in. As leaders in local communities, we wield the greatest ability and awesome responsibility to positively influence Main Street America. I cannot express enough gratitude for you taking the time to subscribe to this leadership journey, it means the world!
How it works. Every Monday, a new blog will be posted that covers a topic on community leadership or about one of the many characters in our community that have made a significant impact on my leadership journey. The character for this first blog is actually a fictitious one, but has had a significant impact on my life. So here goes, blog one!
One of the greatest community leaders in history burst onto the scene in 1946! The leader was George Bailey from the small community of Bedford Falls in Upstate New York. George was born and raised in the community and had dreams of heading off to college, traveling the world, and doing big things in his career! As much as George hoped for this, he just could not get out of Bedford Falls. Each time he was about to leave for his “big opportunity,” he got caught at the red light. He felt stuck.
His first intersection occurred when his father passed. George had delayed going to college to help with the family business, the Bailey Bros. Building and Loan. The business provided loans to modest people in the community to give them the opportunity to experience the American dream of home ownership and escape the oppressive grasp of Mr. Potter, a character we will explore later.
Two different intersections in one night would change the trajectory of George’s journey forever. He almost blew right through the first one, when he met his future wife, Mary. George had met Mary earlier that evening at a dance he was volunteering at. As he spent the night falling quickly for Mary, he arrived at his next intersection. Bert, who was a Police Officer in the community interrupted his romantic evening with devastating news that would change everything for George. His father, his hero, had suffered a stroke that would soon take his life.
George was packed and ready for a trip to Europe before he finally headed off to college. Before he left, he had some business to attend to. The Board of Directors for the Building and Loan were meeting to determine the future of the business. Mr. Potter, who was an investor in the business, made a motion to the board to close. Potter controlled much of the real estate in Bedford Falls, including the bank, and the Building and Loan was always a thorn in his side. He was a selfish, and cold human being. George was a selfless and a warm human being. As an executive, George had to remove himself from the meeting for Potter to make his case to close the business. George was at peace with whatever the decision the board made and was more focused on leaving town. The next intersection arrived. The Board of Directors delivered him great news! The Building and Loan would stay in business! The bad news, it was contingent upon him running the company.
Once again, George’s dreams would take a back seat to the needs of others and the community he lived in. If you are hearing this story for the first time, then you have not seen the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. I have to admit, I did not see this movie until my early thirties, and it was life changing! It is now an annual tradition in our household. If you have not seen it, you need to. If you have seen it, schedule a movie night for a refresher! You will not be sorry!
Here are four lessons we learn from the community leader George Bailey:
People that are selfless put the needs of others ahead of their own. George exemplified selflessness as a community leader. He put himself second. When his eight-year-old brother fell through the ice on a frozen pond. George risked his own life to save him. He lost his hearing in the process. When his father died and the Building and Loan could have gone out of business, he decided to forgo college and stay behind to save the business. He also gave all his college savings to his brother Harry so he could go to college. Harry returned home after college to run the Building and Loan so George could finally go off to college. When George gets word his brother has a better opportunity in the city, he encouraged his brother to go and he stayed.
As he was departing on his big, elaborate honeymoon with Mary, mass panic broke out in the community. The depression was hitting hard, and everyone was pulling their money out of the bank. The bank suddenly called the note due on the Building and Loan and they were out of money. The people wanted their money. In an act of selflessness by both George and Mary, they took the money they had saved for their honeymoon and helped the people get through the tough time. The greater good was more important to them than their own good. The people meant more than the profit.
Now, George was not a perfect person. He had momentary bouts with selfishness. Selfish is the antonym of selfless. He pouted at times about not being able to travel the world, attend college, have nice cars, or the best house in the neighborhood. I heard this once and it stuck. “You will not find any self-help books on how to be more selfish.” It is in our nature!
Every Leader Faces Discouragement
There are two types of leaders, those who have faced discouragement and those that are about to! Whether it is coming up short in the playoffs as a coach, a teacher overwhelmed with balancing virtual and in person instruction, a public servant trying to hit the moving target of COVID-19, a pastor preaching to a camera with limited in-person attendance, or a small business owner having their world rocked by a pandemic, we have all been discouraged. George was there!
His scatter-brained uncle Billy misplaced a large deposit the same day the bank received a compliance check. Warrants were issued, reporters were pressing for answers, and George got discouraged and broke. He did what we all feel like doing sometimes when things go bad, just give up. He left his family behind, hit the bottle, and considered ending it all.
As George stands at the end of the bridge with a life insurance policy tucked in his pocket. He sees an old man screaming for help in the cold, frigid river. Selfless George reemerges momentarily, and he jumps in and saves the man. The Old man turns out to be a George’s guardian angel, Clarence. Returning to the land of discouragement, George wished that he had never been born at all. Clarence was able to grant him his wish. George gets to see the community as if he were never born. It was not pretty. His brother drowned, his wife never married, his kids were never born, the Building and Loan failed, and Bedford Falls was a town full of entertainment, bars, and substandard housing. He had a new perspective on how good his life truly was in Bedford Falls and how much he loved his community.
We do not get the luxury of the experience he had. What if we did? It would be life changing. We would all see the impact we make on others and the world we live in. It would be easier for us to keep perspective.
Your Community Loves and Appreciates You
When George stumbled and the community found out he was in trouble, they rallied behind him. The movie ends with the entire community showing up to support him. Everyone from his brother who he saved from drowning, to the lady he lent money to get through a hard time, to all the homeowners he helped achieve the American dream of home ownership, and many more were there. Whether you feel it right now or not, your students, players, program participants, regulars, members, and your congregation love and appreciate you!
Ordinary to Extraordinary Intersection.
Am I selfless or selfish? Do I put the needs of others above my own? Am I in a season of discouragement? How is my perspective? What would my community and those that depend on me look like if I had never been born at all?