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A Leader's Identity
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“Why are you limping?”

My Mother already knew the answer to the question.  Mr. Atkisson next door and the milk man I idolized both limped.  I was six years old and my dad had just died.  People told me that I was the “man of the house” now but no one defined what that meant.  We are left to figure it out for ourselves.

Mr. Atkisson already had three children but he always welcomed me.  The milk man also took the time to talk with a little kid.  These were men I admired and I wanted to be like them.  I wanted to be like them to the point I tried to emulate how they walked.  Think about how powerful that is and understand that this is normal behavior.

I was fortunate growing up – there were other neighborhood men, coaches, older cousins, uncles and teachers all providing excellent role models because of their behavior.  I was learning what a man looked like by example.  Later my step father (Ray Carswell), was another excellent example. 

Role models are important – kids copy them, even to the point of limping when they walk.   Charles Barkley (the round-mound of rebound) once claimed that he was not a role model.  Of course he was wrong.  You may be a bad role model but understand – you are a role model.  As an aside, Sir Charles does pretty well as a role model, especially since he has aged a tad.  

We are blessed when our role models are good ones.  I was blessed.

I shared this story as we went around the table at Bibb County Correctional Facility (a state prison for men in Alabama) last Thursday evening.  We were each telling our story – where we had learned to form our identity as a man. 

Ron was sitting almost directly across from me.  Ron is originally from New England and still had a Boston accent. 

“My dad hated me.  He told me all the time how he wished I had not been born and that I would never amount to anything.  All I remember from him was shooting up with dope, beating my mom and he eventually abandoned us. “ 

Sitting next to Ron was Johnny who was originally from Dothan.  His father was a minister in Dothan.   Johnny admired his dad so much he would try and put on his clothes and walk around the house in his shoes.  When his mom and dad divorced they moved to Montgomery and his new role models were the guys in the streets selling drugs. 

Everyone had a story of how their identity of a man evolved.  They were as varied as the men they were trying to emulate and please – their audience.  Who you admire and who you are trying to please matters.  It will identify who you are and thus determine how you treat others.  And the good or bad cycle may continue.

What is your identity?  Who are you?  Better yet; whose are you?  Who are you trying to please – your parents, your spouse, boss, peer group, your corporate culture or is it yourself?  The size of the god you are trying to impress and emulate dictates the power of your leadership and your impact on those around you.  It could be for the good or not so good.

Make sure the god you choose to impress is a big one; because it matters. 


John Covington

My new book Cow’s Don’t Stay Milked is now available on Amazon or you can order from our office either by e-mail or give us a shout at (205) 759-8259.  Signed hardback copies are $19.95 and soft cover is $12.95 plus shipping.  

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