The only sign of life was a mangy dog fearlessly ambling down the middle of the road. There wasn’t a single car—parked or moving—anywhere on Main Street. The dog was perfectly safe and seemed to know it. Looking to the west, every building was boarded up, gutted or torn down; looking east…the same thing. There were no grocery stores, banks, dime stores or drug stores; no place for a boy to buy an ice cream cone or a nickel coke. Saddest of all, the RIO was closed! No more Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy or Gene Autry 15¢ cowboy movies on Saturday mornings. The nearest theatre is now 30 miles away; too far to walk and too far to ride a bike. Saturday mornings must be boring now.
It had been more than thirty years since I last visited my childhood home—a small, no-stop-light town on the Red River in southwest Oklahoma. It was a town of about 1000 farmers, refinery workers, teachers and preachers, shop keepers, one policeman and…well, that was about it. But it was a great place to grow up. There was swimming in stock tanks, pick-up baseball games in the park (no Little League), “quicksand chicken” in the river and playing Tarzan on the rafter rope in the seed room of the cotton gin. There were horses, real cowboys and real Indians, and donkey basketball games. It doesn’t get any better than that.
It wasn’t prosperous when I lived there and I didn’t expect it to be prosperous now, but I didn’t expect it to be nearly deserted. My boyhood friends have been long gone to pursue careers in Texas or Oklahoma City. People make the drive through the wheat fields and pastures to Lawton or Wichita Falls to shop and work. Except when the wheat is young and green in the spring, the drive always looks the same: flat, dry, hot and brown. Instead of the refinery (which is closed), some people now work in the casinos that are east of town. Some don’t work at all because there is nothing for them to do. There are still some teachers, part-time preachers and a lot of retired folks. The town has a handful of workers at the Farmer’s Co-op and cotton gin, and there are a few at the one and only café/gas station/grocery/convenience store; an insurance office…some city employees…a post office…utility workers…that’s about it.
In spite of the decline, my love for the town and the people is still strong. They are great people. They love God, love America, love each other and don’t expect Washington D.C. to take care of them. It is part—an important part—of my identity, and always will be. As I drove away, I was sad and had thoughts of returning to start a small factory to provide employment for 20-30 people. But I didn’t have passion to do it and I wasn’t willing to leave my comfortable life in Tennessee to do it.
There is a big difference between sentiment or emotion, and passion. You can drive away from sentimental and emotional things, but you can’t drive away from passionate things. Your heart won’t let you—you have to do something.
What are you truly passionate about? If you are a leader, I hope it is people. You don’t lead buildings, machines, computers, products, stores, etc.—you lead people. If you aren’t passionate about leading people, they will know it and follow you only because they have to, not because they want to.
Do you have passion for people? I hope so. My suggestion: don’t try to lead without it; it’s too hard.
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© Copyright 2012 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner