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Lessons in leadership from the library table

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The carnage of Colorado has, unfortunately, become a very convenient grinding wheel for just about anyone's ax. Lack of parental control, surfing the Internet, not repeating the Lord's Prayer at 8 a.m. and a plethora of other issues have been the script of studio pundits who know why Eric and Dylan acted out such insanity.

I have decided not to take the bait. That's just too easy.

Instead, I would like to look under a library table at Columbine High at a young lady who taught me the cost of leadership. Her name was Cassie Bernall, age 17.

With the air filled with cordite smoke, splintered wood and blinding hate, Cassie was asked just one question, "Do you believe in God?" Her answer, she knew, would determine the squeeze of a trigger.

Let's leave the library for a minute and go first to Washington, D.C.

We are now on the floor of U.S. Congress. A resolution has been proposed which will affirm the participation of the United States in the bombing of Yugoslavia for the past month. President Milosevic, NATO troops and millions are watching CNN to see the results of this vote. It is a tie the vote failed.

Anyone in leadership knows about this nanosecond. It is the frozen moment in time when the leader knows this decision is not bureaucratic it has become personal. The "yes" could have a cost.

We are not talking about moving around little boxes on a flow chart, painting the hallway a color no one likes or changing vendors for the soda machine. This is the big leagues of leadership.

I'm not sure why the representatives in Congress did not endorse our military action. They may have had good, intelligent reasons. I cannot think of any reason for morally pulling the rug out from under our armed forces.

My gut tells me this vote failed because leadership failed. Leadership should have fleshed-out the Niagara of values verbiage which had been daily cascading down the steps of the U.S. Capitol over the past year. "Doing the right thing" got massive press coverage but not this vote.

There are men and women in the U.S. armed forces who were counting on this congressional support, but men and women in D.C. decided to keep their jobs instead of keeping their word and came up with the self-serving answer, "no." There is a cost to leadership.

Now, go with me to your organization. Think about the hard choices for leadership today.

There are some companies which need to be restructured to meet the demands of a competitive environment. It won't happen. There are people in senior management who know that restructuring will eliminate their jobs or departments.

And, what about the practice of empowerment? Now here is a five-Kleenex weeper for the annual meeting, "You are all empowered to meet the needs of your customers."

That statement is like showing pictures of your grandchild. Everyone will give you a corporate sigh of sentimentality, but no one will tell you, that she's ugly. Practice empowerment by spending money out of your boss' budget.

Now, go back with me to the library.

The choice was so simple. It came down to an excruciatingly terse, "yes" or "no."

None of us can prognosticate the outcome, but we do know a "no" may have bought time or even life.

Cassie knew the implications. At age 17 she still had so much to siphon out of life. There were dates to plan, children to be birthed, Christmas carols to be sung and love to be learned.

There was the easy answer which may not have had a price tag. Who could blame her for "no"?

Cassie, thanks for leading us with "yes."

(Dr. Cal LeMon solves organizational problems with customized training and consulting. His company, The Executive Edge, can be contacted at his Web site,

by phone at 889-4040 or e-mail at callemon@aol.)

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