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When Helpers Are Leaders – Three Lessons from the Boston Marathon and UNH

If you are from the greater Boston area, you won’t forget the Boston Marathon massacre for the rest of your life. We all know people who were there and many of us know people who were killed or injured. As I look back on this time, there are three management and leadership lessons I will remember.

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If you are from the greater Boston area, you won’t forget the Boston Marathon massacre for the rest of your life. We all know people who were there and many of us know people who were killed or injured. As I look back on this time, there are three management and leadership lessons I will remember.

Lesson 1 – Importance of Planning.

Before I write about leadership, a quick note about planning, which is primarily a management rather than leadership activity. I think the response to the Boylston Street explosions and subsequent search and capture of the suspects is a noteworthy example of why planning is such an important activity. Deservedly, a great deal has been reported positively about how well emergency responders, police, and the FBI handled the events following the explosions. This happened largely because these groups were trained to respond and many logistical details were planned and written down in advance.

Of course there were hundreds of variables that entered this situation that weren’t planned for, but they did plan in advance who would handle the hundreds of decisions related to the unknown variables. And, after the dust settles they will sit down again and explore what worked and what didn’t and they will be better prepared should another tragic event happen.

Lesson 2 – Helpers are Leaders.

We have seen and read about how in the seconds following the explosion, a group of fellow human beings surged into the exploded area to help victims. I’m sure it inspired you as much as it did me when you watched it. What is notable is that there were a few people who fearlessly began the surge and others followed. These first helpers showed others, who might have hesitated at first, that it was okay to go in.

These helpers are great examples of “servant leaders.” They clearly demonstrated two aspects of servant leadership that have been described by Robert Greenleaf – they put service before self-interest and they nourished others and helped them become whole.

As Jen Daysa, our church’s Director of Youth & Family Ministries, reminded me on Sunday, when parents try to talk with their children about these events, they often go back to good old Fred Rogers. Rogers said, “”When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

In addition to the first helpers, there were hundreds of other caring people – runners who continued on to the hospitals to give blood, hospital personnel who went in and helped without being paged, and even runners who gave their medals to runners who didn’t finish.

Lesson 3 – When Helpers Inspire Others.

Speaking of caring people, here’s one story that really inspires me that you might have missed during the Marathon news eclipse. Cameron Lyle is a senior track shot-putter from the University of New Hampshire. He has just donated his bone marrow to help a cancer patient, who would have only six months to live without a transplant.
Cameron Lyle

Lyle chose to help because his marrow is rare and there are no other donors with such a perfect match. Two things are really inspiring about Lyle’s decision. First, he is giving-up competing in his last two championship meets of his career. And, second, he doesn’t know the patient. Lyle’s decision is inspiring others to now donate bone marrow. That’s leadership.

Please feel free to share other lessons from this week by commenting on this Blog post.

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