A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. – Christopher Reeve
Sports Illustrated columnist Kostya Kennedy wrote a moving tribute recently in honor of Rachael Robinson, the widow of the late baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. Now 93-years old, Rachael Robinson remains very active in the day-to-day operations of the Jackie Robinson Foundation which provides scholarships to minority students from around the country. Her work in preserving Jackie Robinson’s legacy is testament to her great generosity and authentic leadership.
The Sports Illustrated feature coincides with the 65th anniversary when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier when he played his first game in Major League Baseball and the 50th anniversary since he was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And thanks to Rachael Robinson, the legacy of Jackie Robinson lives on.
Jackie Robinson’s rise to stardom as an authentic major league player was met with much resistance and racial barriers that had to be overcome. And one event that helped turn the tide of public perception occurred in his home stadium in Brooklyn when during a game Robinson committed an error.
The fans began to ridicule him. He stood at second base, humiliated, while the fans jeered. Shortstop Pee Wee Reese came over and stood next to him. He put his arm around Robinson and faced the crowd. The fans grew quiet. Robinson later said that arm around his shoulder saved his career.
Thomas Edison once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success before they gave up.” And this is the challenge for leaders who break barriers. Success comes to those who will stick to it longer than others, who will not give up, and press through their personal barriers. What will be your response to the barriers in leadership that you face? From the amazing career of Jackie Robinson to the remarkable work of his beloved widow, Rachael, we learn three important leadership lessons about facing our barriers.
Barriers build character. Down through the ages traditional wisdom has taught us to pick our battles wisely. But if given the choice, how many of us would choose to face a battle? The point being, we do not always choose the battles or barriers that we face, but we do choose how we address them. Robinson’s battle, by default, was in breaking the barriers of racism and proving he had the skills worthy of the Major Leagues. And Robinson did this with his character in-tact and with the talents that placed him in the Hall of Fame.
The next time you are tempted to grumble or complain about the barriers that you face try a little perspective on for size. It’s been said that obstacles are those frightening things you see when you take your eyes off the goal. Barriers can build your character if you will learn not to let them be your road block.
Barriers build bridges. And this is the mark of what happens when leaders step up to the plate. As barriers are overcome and new doors are opened, it paves the way for others to step up and achieve their dreams. As a leader, when you face and overcome your barriers you are creating opportunities and possibilities not just for yourself, but for others.
The emergence of Jackie Robinson onto the grand stage of Major League Baseball opened the door for other minorities who have followed. But what is notable is the way in which Robinson viewed his hurdle. He did not see his barrier as a stop sign. He saw it as a pause on his pathway to his dream. How do you see your barriers?
Barriers build possibilities. Robinson’s post-baseball career was marked by his service to the cause of Civil Rights. Now through the mission of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, his memory is being honored and his legacy is being passed down to future generations. The barriers he faced were merely stepping stones to great causes that live on 40 years after his death.
What will be the mark of your leadership? It will, in part, be determined by the choices you make in the face of adversity. Your barriers are not detours; they are signposts that you are tempted to ignore. But it’s when you travel with courage the road marked out for you that you can rise above them, and pave the road of your destiny.
© 2012 Doug Dickerson
Doug’s new book, Great Leaders Wanted! is now available. Visit www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com to order your copy today!