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Leading with Character: A Thousand Points of Light

Last week I had the pleasure of keynoting at the University of New Hampshire’s Paul College of Business Tenth Annual Women in Business Conference. It’s a student-organized event that the Women in Business leaders start planning months in advance. Those young women worked really hard to execute an exciting, impactful event. Watching their bright, shining faces as they kicked off the conference and hustled around making sure everything was just right hearkened me back to President George H.W. Bush’s 1,000 points of light.

The Joy of Serving

It was January, 1989 and I was a young US Coast Guard junior officer stationed at the Service’s headquarters office in Washington, DC. President Bush had been elected just a few months earlier, and it was an exciting time to be in the Nation’s capitol. In addition to my primary duty on a project staff at Coast Guard Headquarters, I had also applied and been accepted into the White House Social Aide program. That was an awesome collateral duty serving the President of the United States during events that took place in the White House. On top of all that, I had volunteered to serve as a member of the presidential inaugural force. To my delight, I was assigned to escort Governor Donald Schaefer of Maryland, my home state prior to joining the Coast Guard. What a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! I enjoyed serving and jumped at every chance to volunteer. Life was good and just getting better and better.

One Thousand Points of Light

Inauguration Day dawned bone-chilling cold, but I was too excited to care about the weather. The atmosphere was charged with excitement. I remember Lee Greenwood’s powerful song, “God Bless the USA” reverberating from gargantuan loudspeakers across the National Mall. Governor Schaefer was very gracious and even gave me a signed photo as a memento. When it came time for the inaugural address, I was captivated by President Bush’s vision of Americans serving as “One Thousand Points of Light.” As a mariner, I always loved navigating by the stars—looking to the heavens for lights to guide my ship. The idea of every human serving as a guiding light for someone else captured my youthful imagination. Why couldn’t I become one of those thousand points of light?

President Bush delivered a positive message of hope that deeply resonated and inspired me: “We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light…we all have something to give.” In the first year of his presidency, President Bush established the Daily Point of Light Award for individuals making a difference. During his administration, he formally recognized over 1,000 volunteers as “points of light” for helping or serving others.

Way to Go

Going back to life getting better and better…shortly after the inauguration, I was reassigned to serve as the newly-installed Secretary of Transportation’s military aide. Like President Bush, Secretary Sam Skinner saw his people as 1,000 points of light. He established a “Way to Go” award to recognize those members of the department who demonstrated exceptional service above self. Although it was an informal program with no monetary or career-enhancing value, being recognized with a treasured “Way to Go” award was regarded as a top honor.

A Higher Purpose

As an impressionable young officer, I learned from President Bush and Secretary Skinner the importance of seeking the good in others, and rewarding those who put service above self. I learned to believe in myself – although just a single point of light, I could make a difference! And, I discovered the power of shining together in a constellation of one thousand points of light in service to a purpose far greater than my own. I committed to become a point of light; to keep a positive attitude and try my best to serve as a beacon to others. Although I fell short time and again over the years, I was never alone for long; I was strengthened by the light of others until I could shine again.

Look in the mirror. Do you actively serve as a beacon for those you lead, lighting the pathway so they can shine their brightest?

Please join me next time for more on Leading with Character.

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