Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dodging Bricks

A successful man is the one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him?  - David Brinkley

The nation watched in horror when the video tape emerged showing the bullying of 68-year old school bus monitor Karen Klein. According to ABC News more than 32,000 people went online and donated more than $700,000 to her after they saw the inexcusable way in which she was bullied by middle school students in a suburban Rochester, N.Y. suburb.

In the months since that incident Klein has moved forward with the next chapter of her life in a most surprising way. Actually, what she has done is quite admirable. Klein took $100,000 of the money and has started The Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation. (

If I have learned one thing about leadership over the years it is this: adversity brings out the best in leaders. It was Henry Ford who said, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy,” and that is what Klein is doing – finding a remedy. Klein’s actions compel me to look within my own heart and consider the way I would react if I were in her shoes. Could I have been so gracious as to do the same? How about you? What will you do with the bricks others have thrown at you? Here are a few tips to help you along the way.

Let it go. Leaders often find themselves in unique and unenviable situations. Leaders are easy targets not because they are like the brick throwers but because they are bigger.  And when people throw bricks it can be a challenge. Leaders set themselves apart not when they pick up the brick with revenge in mind but a purpose. Klein’s purpose was clear. What was meant to harm is now being used to heal. The choice and the possibilities are powerful. When you learn to let it go you can go to a higher level of leadership.

Be an example. When generous people from across the country reached out through their donations she easily could have taken the money and fled. Klein’s actions are characteristic of leaders who have, through the school of hard-knocks, learned that the best revenge is to take the bricks others have thrown and do something useful. Anger and resentment toward those who wronged her would have accomplished nothing. 

Now, through the work of her foundation, Klein can educate others and make a difference. Klein, like all smart leaders, are empowered by adversity and use it to demonstrate what makes them so special.  With your bricks you can build or bash, what will you do with yours?

Live your values. By choice and for little pay, Karen Klein worked as a school bus monitor because she cared. The way in which she responded to the bullying is testament to her character. Adversity did not shape her values it merely revealed them. The fact that she would take $100,000 and start an anti-bullying foundation should come as no surprise.

Here is a leadership truth worth remembering: values do not change with your circumstances but give you clarity when they do. In good times and in adversity your values shape you as a leader and as an organization.

Let’s be clear—bricks hurt. We don’t like being attacked. But when you learn to let it go, lead by example, and live your values there is a satisfaction and peace that gives you the courage to lead.

© Doug Dickerson    

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** This column originally appeared in the International Business Times

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