THE CHAIR’S CORNER
A Note on Leadership

By James M. Durant III

It was a hot Southern California day in the middle of June 1976, and the bases were loaded with two outs in the final inning of an intense Little League baseball game between the Vets and the Angels. It was the last game of the sea-son, and this single match would determine the first-place champions of the San Bernardino Little League Division. The bleachers were packed with fans from all over the league. The aroma of hotdogs, nachos, taquitos, and popcorn was in the air. Coach Perez said to me, "Jimmy—go, you’re up. Take your time, I know you are going to do your best. Don’t worry, okay?"

I swallowed hard, tightly gripped my 32-ounce aluminum metallic-blue bat, adjusted my batting helmet, and took what seemed to be an endless walk from the batter’s deck to home plate, while every set of eyes in the stands fo-cused on me. As I walked, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was ready for what would be my finest hour. I alone would determine the victor of the league. Hours of endless practices, numerous fundraising events, 18 games, and gallons of tears and sweat, all now concentrated on this one moment when I would take the plate and hold within my hands the hope, aspirations, and desires of 14 Little League baseball players, plus a four-member coaching staff, family, and friends. Yes, it was my finest hour, and yes, I was ready to do something, to do something great, to do something larger than myself. Winston Churchill once said, "It is a shame if a man is upon his finest hour and is not prepared." Not me. I was eminently prepared. More importantly, I was motivated and directed to success by the likes of my coach and teammates. Yes, this was my finest hour.

I knew that I would do something great that hot June day, that I would make a difference for myself and my 13 teammates.

As I approached the plate, measured my distance with my bat, and took one last look at my teammates back in the dugout, Coach Perez gave me the look of trust and belief, the look that a leader gives to others that instantly instills confidence. I nodded back to Coach Perez and took my stance. "Strike one!" Wow, where did that come from? I quickly recovered, tightened my grip on the bat, and readied myself for the next pitch. The pitcher, Jamie Jimenez, looked over his left shoulder, started his windup, and let off another pitch. I swung—a hit that went up, up, and away, back, back, almost to the fence. It would be a home run for sure. But the ball fell short of the left-field fence and just outside of the left-field line. "Foul ball," yelled the umpire. My heart did a somersault, and I knew that the next pitch was probably my one and only opportunity to do something great.

I again looked at Coach Perez, and he motioned to me as if he had an invisible bat in his hands. I knew exactly what he conveyed—do your best, you will get a hit. Jamie readied himself once again. This time, there would be no doubt. I swung, and my metallic-blue bat met his pitch with extreme prejudice. Clink! There would be no mis-take, we needed four runs to send the game to extra innings, and I had just delivered them with my powerful, rock-solid hit. The ball sailed back, back, back, and it was sure to clear the left-field fence. With great anticipa-tion, my teammates and I quickly rounded the bases toward home. As I headed to second base, the ball fell a foot short of clearing the fence, but I kept running. As I rounded third base, Coach Perez motioned to me to continue to run. I ran as fast as I possibly could. Home plate was mine for the taking, and my run would open the way for our destined victory and the 1976 San Bernardino Little League Championship. This would be the prize we sought and now would achieve. Heart pumping with adrenalin, I ran faster than I ever had, and I knew that home plate was mine. I owned it, I owned the moment! I met my finest hour and my preparation had guaranteed the Angels’ moment in the annals of San Bernardino Little League history. I knew the ball was well on its way to home plate and everything came down to who would get there first, me or that ball. I took my last step and slid—the moment was silent, the dust seemed to hang as if in slow motion. Nothing audible, all sound seemed sus-pended. With the authority of a military drill instructor, the umpire yelled, "You’re out!"

We lost. No extra innings. No win. No victory. No championship. I was dumfounded, confused, upset all at the same time. I could only look at my cleats, now covered in red dirt. Just then, Coach Perez walked out to the plate and said, "Jimmy, you did your best and I am very proud of you—get over here." It was at that moment that I re-alized that I actually did something great that day. I was ready and I did my best for the group, for the team, for something greater than myself. Next thing I knew, my teammates swarmed out of the dugout and congratulated me as if we had actually won the championship. Then I realized that to us, 14 Little Leaguers, we did win, and our victory would be indelibly etched in our minds for years to come.

Coach Perez inspired the 1976 San Bernardino Angels Little League team to success. Whether you believe it or not, as a bar leader, you are a Coach Perez. Leadership is the art of influencing others to accomplish a goal—as a committee chair or a rank-and-file member, you influence others to accomplish a goal. Our goal in the GPSolo Division is simple: We support the Main Street Lawyer who is out there every day making a difference in the lives of others, ensuring that their rights and access to justice are not diminished or denied. We celebrate our bar leaders for a number of reasons, but primarily because they put service before self in leading the organized bar to enhance and improve the practice of law for lawyers, both here and abroad. Our 2009-2010 theme is Service to Others. Our bottom line in meeting this lofty goal is to provide federal, state, and local practitioners with the right tools and guidance to ensure success in their practice. We bar leaders inspire our fellow practitioners to do great things and to make tangible and substantial differences in the lives of their clients.

Fellow bar leaders, you hold the trust and confidence of your country as a leader in the organized bar. But, what does it mean to be a leader? Again, leadership is an art. It is also a gift that very few possess—a gift that enables some to inspire and lead others to success. Coach Perez was a leader for 14 Little League baseball players. Leaders like Coach Perez create, build, leverage, enhance, structure, organize, empower, guide, direct, manage, motivate, and follow—especially follow. They set the example while infusing trust, hope, and respect in the minds of those whom they lead. Leaders are individuals of great character. They are people who truly assign success to the group but are quick to accept full responsibility for failure. Leaders embrace integrity, fidelity, dedication, and service to others. Sometimes they are not the appointed leader. Many leaders arise from answering the call from within the group for direction and later enabling their team to succeed. Leaders are also social technicians who labor in the craft of influencing human behavior. You find leaders in every walk of life: church, scouting, military, industry, politics, etc. Look around you, someone is the leader, someone is trusted to guide the group to goal. Is that someone you? Have you been that someone? Will you be that someone? The answer is probably "yes" to all because you are a leader in the ABA. And, with that calling, you have accepted an incredible responsibility, one that few will ever begin to know. Coach Perez led a team of Little League players to success from within. You, too, are a Coach Perez. Good luck with your Bar Season!

Copyright 2009

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