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Leadership Is All About Connection


A college freshman walks into his very first college course – the dreaded eight o’clock class.

Freshman year can be a bit awkward, especially so for this young man. He barely graduated high school, was forced to suspend any dreams he had of going away to school like the rest of his friends and felt stuck going to a junior college. Life did not quite work out his way up to this point.

His father died when he was 15, he was cut from every sports team, never “fit in” anywhere in high school. A shy, overweight, average young man who felt fairly invisible in what felt like the college for misfits.

The students shuffled in, plopping behind desks that felt sized for a middle school student. In walks a man just under six feet tall, wearing wrinkled black pants, white dress shirt untucked, adorned with a black necktie that was loosened like he had already been through a long day.

His wiry black hair was disheveled and his grin completed the package of the image of a mad scientist. Professor Herman Heluza fit the bill for what one would expect for a junior college instructor of a freshman English class.

Already defeated, our young college student readied himself for another series of struggles, trying to make something of himself. Failure defined his existence to this point.

He was never a particularly good student, especially in high school. He had all but given up being anything. He knew he wasn’t very smart, believed that he didn’t have much in the way of mental capacity and intellectual capabilities. It had be reinforced throughout high school. Just to graduate from High School he had to beg a teacher to give him a D in Geometry after he had failed it once before.

English was definitely not his strong suit. Identified as having a reading comprehension problem in sixth grade, he never quite recovered. His work was always sub-standard. He knew how to do just enough to squeak by. In his writing, he grew used to seeing a lot of red ink all over his papers.

He submitted his first paper, not thinking much of it. Receiving it back in class he skipped through the first few pages to go to where the grade would be, on the back page.

Wait, what? A double take. A big letter A. Verifying it was his paper, his immediate thought? “This crazy prof didn’t read my paper.”

Over the course of the semester he kept getting papers with very few comments (translate…very little red ink) and A’s. Wow, this had never happened before, ever!

The final paper, Professor Heluza provided ample feedback with a note at the end, “Please make an appointment with me to come see me as soon as possible!” Yikes! Gulp! His first thought? “He thought I cheated.”

The student remembers, “I knew this was all too good to be true; he thinks I’m plagiarizing.”

The two connected in the professor’s office. Professor Heluza sat down, looked the student in the eye (a bit uncomfortably) and said “I love your writing!”

Shocked, the young man listened. Herman leaned in a little closer, “There’s a gift inside of you that you have to let out. The world needs what you have to offer! You are going to be a great writer and speaker some day.”

That day, this odd, disheveled, sort of weird College Freshman English Professor named Herman connected a skipped over, discarded, “dumb” student with purpose and meaning. Heluza was able to tap into latent potential, unrealized capacity that gave this young man a platform from which to contribute.

There is a gift inside each of us that is waiting to be expressed! It is your unique contribution that fulfills your innate sense of what it means to be human. You long – we all do – for a place to contribute and make an impact.

What Herman Heluza did for that young man was to connect his capacity with a specific way to contribute.

John Quincy Adams said “You’re a leader if you inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.” You could say Professor Heluza was a leader! Leaders of thriving organizations inspire people to realize their capacity, their gift, to contribute to the organization. It’s all about connection, taking the time to meaningfully engage so we can see the potential in people even when they have lost sight of what they can offer.

There is more power in relationship than any position, piece of information or expertise can provide. Relationships are power. Our new economy is based on an age old natural resource; our ability and capacity to connect with people and their potential. Herman Heluza connected capacity with contribution and saved the life of a young man who thought he would amount to nothing.

Here’s something to consider:
 As a leader, what tone are you setting?
 Are you cultivating a climate where meaningful connections are established?
 Are you about opening gifts and breathing inspiration into people?
 Does your organization have a culture that is a place where people can contribute the best of what they have to offer?

The rest of the story? The young man went on to graduate college with a Bachelor’s Degree (with honors), one semester obtaining a 4.0 GPA. He completed a Masters degree from an Ivy League university and went on to get his doctorate and eventually became a published author and speaker.

All because of the power of one person recognizing the gift of another!

Shane Roberson