“If I Were King of the Forest…”

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Leadership. One of the current tropes is that we have a dearth of leadership. There’s nothing modern about the lack, of course. Leaders lead; followers complain (see Moses et al.)

While the foursome wait for the Wizard of Oz to receive them and award their witch-killing efforts, the Cowardly Lion sings “If I Were King of the Forest.” His odd list of what would happen reflects an odd view that’s not consistent with modern sensibilities. (High-falutin’ words, I know.) Sure, it’s just a lyric, but to think of trees kneeling  and chipmunks genuflecting—even if he shows “compash/For every underling”—just doesn’t sit right. He disses queens, too, to which I will take offense in place of former female monarchs. Princes and dukes too, but they’re just fillers. Nathan Lane’s concert version throws in “the performer formerly known as Prince for good measure and good fun.  Even more odd, however, Cowardly Lion believes that courage alone will allow him to be a king, a good leader. Maybe so. That’s a really short list compared to the ones I’ve seen.

This one ends with courage and includes others that we would expect: vision, compassion, “walk the talk”, and communication. This one adds “Be human,” which I guess lets the robots and mean folk out. Here and here we have lots of possibilities (41—who could remember all those?). All this admittedly shallow research led me to think about the real leaders I’ve known, one of whom we’ll learn more about: Robert “Bob” Callanan.

A little history first. One year my college didn’t need my talents, nor did the State of Texas. About the same time, the federal government encouraged employees to explore long-term care insurance. I agreed to listen to the sales pitch but had no intention of buying anything. Although my grandfather had brought insurance to West Texas, paying for a non-tangible (that’s the real term) has always irritated me. Not that the woman who came tried to be persuasive, and even though I was prepared to say no, we bought a policy after I thought of an aged future when I’d hate to ask my children to do the care I might need. Men die first, usually, and that glimpse for me was sure. But not only did I agree to buy this insurance, I also decided to sell it. Paperwork was submitted, approvals were garnered, and an interview with the regional sales manager was arranged. From that first meeting with Bob until our last, I learned what the rules of leadership are.

  1. This mission comes first. His was taking care of people, whether his family by earning a good salary or his sales team by expecting their best or our clients by educating them and providing them the best possible product. Nothing came between him and the mission. That meant corollaries. For example, although he never used these words, there was never to be the appearance of evil. He would meet me at What-a-Burger rather than come into my home alone. We all sensed that he loved his family above all, so nothing that might jeopardize the family would ever happen. His faith was strong and deep and tangible, another support to the mission. As long as he was able, he attended Mass every morning. Even for those of us who consider ourselves faithful, that commitment is above and beyond. The long lists, the short ones—he lived them. He had his favorites (Diet Pepsi and “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”) but the integrity of his character earned him what might be called followers. Most of us aren’t very good at following (see, again, Moses), but Bob was good at what he did, so we were glad to be with him, going where he was going.

And that’s it. To quote Stephen Covey, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” So there aren’t 40 other things to say or remember. Today’s leaders—good, bad, or indifferent—should take note. Robert Callanan, 1940-2019. RIP

2 thoughts on ““If I Were King of the Forest…””

  1. Yes! He loved, period. I’ve had many excellent bosses, but none I learned from, respected, or loved more than Bob.

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