Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My friend Zach

In 1989, I got to meet an up and comer in East TN politics at the national YR convention in Nashville, TN. The first thing that struck me about this person was his huge personality complete with the gift of gab. Turns out that he was in real estate development, so the personality came in handy. Smile. After a few minutes of conversation, it became obvious to me that I was meeting an emerging leader of my generation. I decided to look over his shoulder for the rest of the convention and see if my initial impression was correct - that he walked his talk and knew what leadership really was all about.

He knew then and he knows now that leadership isn't about making bold statements and big promises. It's about having compassion and common sense and doing the RIGHT THING no matter what the situation is and who is or is not watching. It's about being true to yourself and the convictions you hold even when they aren't politically expedient or correct. If you are an elected official, it's about "dancing with the one who brung you", or the people of the district you have been elected to represent. Leadership is about considering everyone you lead equally, even if you don't have anything in common with their life situation and experience.

This person is a leader. He is a leader in his home and loves his wife completely and sacrificially. He is not only a father to his children but a Daddy. He is a leader in his church and an example of what a godly man is all about. He is a leader in his community and has been available day or night to people who are struggling with the same things he himself has battled.

A leader treats people with respect. Early on in our friendship, I had the opportunity to see how he interacted with people and I found out that he treated every single person he met with the same respect no matter who they were, what they looked like, or what they could offer him.

A leader always has a posse, commonly known as the inner circle of advisers. This guy has a great posse, some of whom have been a part of his life since childhood. I've met several of the people in that posse and they are all men of integrity just like him. They tell him when he's wrong and they cheer him on in all of his endeavors and stick around no matter what. Everyone should hang out with this group at least once so you can understand what real friendship is. Seeing their bond influenced me in many of my friendships because I learned to ask the right questions: would this friend be there through thick and thin? And: would this person always tell me the truth and be there to help straighten me out when I made a mistake?

Leaders must have followers. Since 1994, the people in his home district in TN have chosen him as their Congressman. Like me, they recognized a leader when they saw one and made sure that he got elected and continues to be reelected. I recently met up with him in his office in DC and found out that even though he's a respected Congressman, he still has time for old friends and he still is that same talkative person of integrity that I met 20 years ago. He is still the kind of person that you know you can trust. He is still the kind of leader that we need today.

While he had done an amazing job as a Congressman, he has made the choice this year to go home to Tennessee and seek the office of Governor. His is the kind of leadership that Tennessee needs right now in order to ride out these tough times and fulfill its potential.

In case you'd not guessed it by now, I'm talking about my friend, Zach Wamp, future Governor of the Great State of Tennessee.

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