Mr. Martin told his English class that leadership was “influencing meaningful change either through your own conduct or by motivating others to act,” and he assigned an essay requiring students to write about a personal experience with leadership.
The students groaned, insisting they couldn’t think of anything, so Mr. Martin read an essay submitted last semester:
“This year I started taking a bus to work after school. People pretty much keep to themselves.
A few months ago, an old guy got on the bus and said loudly to the driver, ‘Good morning!’
Most people looked up, annoyed, and the bus driver just grunted. The next day the man did it again. He got another grunt. On the third day the driver responded with a semi-cheerful ‘Good morning!’
Then the guy said: ‘My name is Benny,’ and asked the driver, ‘What’s yours?’ That was the first time any of us heard the driver’s name.
Soon, Benny offered his cheerful ‘Good morning!’ to the whole bus. Within a few days, his ‘Good morning!’ was returned by a whole bunch of ‘Good mornings’ and the entire bus got friendlier. People started introducing themselves and talking. A man next to me mentioned that the place where he worked was looking for people. He gave me the number and I got a better job.
Things really changed on the bus because of Benny, so I think he was a leader. But about a month ago, Benny stopped getting on the bus. Everyone noticed and lots of people said he may have died. No one knew what to do and soon the bus got awful quiet again.
So last week, I started to act like Benny and say, ‘Good morning!’ to everyone and they cheered up again. I suppose I’m the leader now.
I learned you don’t have to have big titles or lots of power to be a leader. Benny didn’t just change the bus, he changed me and lots of others by showing us that just being cheerful can change attitudes, and that changing attitudes can change lives.
I hope Benny comes back to see what he started.”
Someone in the class asked, “Mr. Martin, whatever, happened to Benny?” Mr. Martin laughed. “Well, he’s okay. Benny used to be a teacher here. After he retired, he just keeps riding different buses teaching leadership.”
One cynical student said: “Wait a minute, is this all true?” Mr. Martin smiled and said, “Do you mean the story or the lesson?”
For more on leadership, check out some of Michael’s recent commentaries on the topic:
I’m Only a One-Star
The Paradoxical Commandments
Leadership By Example