Leadership Begins With Humility

Chad Smith, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1999 to 2011, has been a powerful force in building businesses and working toward self-sufficiency for Native American Nations.  He has devoted the majority of his adult life to rebuilding the Cherokee Nation and helping Cherokees learn how to help themselves. When he was principal chief, the Cherokee Nation grew its assets from $150 million to $1.2 billion, increased business profits 2,000 percent, improved healthcare services from $18 million to $310 million, created 6,000 jobs, and  dramatically advanced its education, language, and cultural preservation programs. The Cherokee Nation’s success is a direct result of his principle-based leadership and his “Point A to Point B” leadership model. This model works for businesses, governments, and people in everyday life situations.

Forty years ago, as a college sophomore attending the University of Tennessee, I was walking down Neyland Stadium Drive with a fellow student. We passed a new building and he said, “There is our new swimming natatorium.” I said “That is nice.”  He said, “And we have only had a swimming team four years.”  I said, “Good.”  Then he said. “They are nationally ranked.”  I said, “Wow! That is something.”  And then he said, “And the coach had never coached swimming before.”

Now he had my attention.  I asked, “How did he do that?”  The guy said, “The coach had a simple philosophy, if you want a football team you get some horses, if you want a swim team you get some fishes.”  It dawned on me that the coach was outstanding in recruiting student athletes with talent and excellent assistant coaches who knew how to teach techniques.  The coach knew one of his most important jobs was to recruit and develop leaders.

My favorite saying is, “Adversity creates opportunity.”  For the Cherokee Nation and most organizations and governments, the greatest adversity is lack of leadership and the greatest opportunity, of course, is to develop leadership, in other words get some “horses and fishes.”

A dictionary defines “lead” as to take or conduct on the way.   Therefore, leadership is the ability to take or conduct on the way; that means you must start somewhere and go somewhere.  Using mathematical language, Point A is where you start and Point B is where you want to go.  Leadership is the ability to conduct from Point A to Point B.  Also, it is leadership that drives and motivates us to begin and complete the journey. We can prepare ourselves for the journey of leadership by learning skills to navigate the way, understand challenges, and overcome adversities.

We must know where we are before we can find the path to where we want to go.  We must establish Point A, a beginning, to navigate to Point B, an end.   Just like getting directions from our GPS on the car or smartphone, you must enter a “starting” and an “ending” point or location. As individuals, Point A is a humbling, self-assessment to learn about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. Determining Point A includes understanding ones relationship to place, time, economics, spirituality, family, hometown, community, friends, etc.   It is humbling to see yourself and your abilities in relation to the world, history and the future. This humility results in confidence.

For institutions, determining Point A is not much different; it is making an assessment and taking an inventory of the strengths and weaknesses of an organization, including its competitive advantages and intelligence, and then determining the nature of its market and its market position.

The adage that “If you don’t know where you have been – how do you know where you are going?” has wisdom.  Determining Point A is not only a snapshot of where you or your organization are at a moment in time, it is also the recognition of where you have been and what experience, knowledge, education and intelligence you carry with you.

Next, where is Point B; where do you want to go?  Customarily, I asked groups of Cherokee speakers, often elders, how they would describe a certain situation, or interpret a concept.  Once, I asked them, “How would you describe a young person in their late twenties or early thirties that was successful? Success was having a meaningful job, starting a loving family, taking care of his parents, being a good neighbor, taking responsibility and being a patriot to the Cherokee Nation?” They concluded in the Cherokee language, you would describe that person as “mature.”

Understanding Point A – where we begin, results in humility, perspective and confidence from which we can start a journey, build an institution, achieve a dream and reach Point B.   For many people and institutions, Point B – where we want to go, is success and maturity.

 Make sure and visit us again tomorrow to hear the Business Fuel podcast interview with Chief Smith.

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