Leaders Commit in Ways that Inspire Others

One of the most inspirational people I’ve met is Ron Clark. This incredibly gifted teacher is the winner of the 2000, Disney Teacher of the Year Award. He was Oprah Winfrey’s first, “Phenomenal Man” and he’s been called “America’s Educator.” Recognized worldwide, Ron’s been invited to the White House three times, appeared on the Today Show and he’s been interviewed by many nationally syndicated radio and television programs. He’s spoken about his educational philosophy all over America and is also the subject of the acclaimed 2006 television movie, “The Ron Clark Story.”

Seeing a need and responding

I had the great pleasure of hearing Ron speak on two occasions. Both times he had people laughing, crying and standing up applauding. Besides his incredible energy and enthusiasm, what’s inspiring about him is his unwavering commitment to children. Ron told me that after viewing a television program about schools in Harlem that couldn’t attract teachers, he packed his car and left his rural North Carolina home for New York City. He landed at P.S. 83, teaching a 5th grade class that school officials deemed “hopeless.”

Ron fought racial barriers and cynicism from educators, parents and the children themselves. He was spit on, laughed at and mocked during his time in NY. Yet, he persevered and eventually broke through all the barriers by demonstrating his care for the students. He was excited about what he was teaching and continued to believe in their capacity to learn. Certainly Ron’s approach was structured and his expectations were high, but everything he did was driven by love and respect for the children. And he used many innovations from rap, to dance…whatever he could to engage kids in learning.

Inspiring others to follow

Ron’s commitment motivated students to excel in their subjects, earning the highest test scores in the school. Additionally, most of them were admitted to the most exclusive middle school in Manhattan. Ron developed creative techniques and 55 rules that helped him succeed. Yet, his unwavering commitment to kids was really what caused students to follow him. That commitment also led him to found The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta for underprivileged, underperforming children and he inspired others to help build it through fundraising. Clearly Ron is inspirational. He’s inspired these children to achieve at the highest levels, and he’s also inspired many others to be more effective as leaders.

Ron told me that teaching is his calling and primary work in life. Leadership cannot really occur apart from this kind of deep and abiding commitment to organizations and their people. As leaders commit this way, sometimes they also inspire that same kind of commitment in others. When that happens, it motivates people to act productively on organizational objectives.

Lacking commitment can be costly

Whether the organization is a school, church or business; an erosion of commitment to the purposes and people is costly. In fact, research clearly demonstrates that customer and employee attrition cost untold millions each year in lost productivity and increased marketing, recruitment and acquisition expenses. Essentially attrition is a manifestation of a lack of commitment, which typically comes from relational shortcomings of some kind. A customer service representative is rude, a teacher ridicules a student publicly (causing him to shut down), the only time an alumna hears from her college is through the mail when they need money. Relational breaches like these occur daily and they can be devastating for organizations.

Still there is a way to conquer these breaches. It starts simply by listening, learning and applying the lessons about motivation that are demonstrated by leaders like Ron. You might find that difficult, but you’ll also find it rewarding!