The Great Leaders Keep Trying

You and I live in truly trying times. It is the age of instant gratification and the quick fix, but I want you to know that there are no quick fixes when it comes to leading people and accomplishing tasks. You cannot always complete your goals and...


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I am well aware of my shortcomings. I try to operate within my comfort zone. Back in 1999, management expert Peter Drucker, writing in the Harvard Business Review, spoke of the fact that "success comes to those who know their strengths, their values and how they best perform."

This is a topic about which I have written a great deal. Each of us needs to know who we are and what we can do. We must then use this understanding of ourselves as the solid bedrock upon which to build our lives and our careers. In a world of instant gratification, the concepts of success and tenacity seem strangely old-fashioned. These are two concepts where nothing ever happens in an instant. Like many of you, I subscribe to the concept that success is a journey, rather than a destination.

My journey through the world of education has been underway since 1951, when I entered the kindergarten class at the West Freehold School in Freehold Township, NJ. There were countless days of boring repetition, with occasional bursts of joy and success. Many have been the times when I thanked my teachers from those faraway days for the impact they had on my life.

After running headlong into the wall of failure at the University of Pennsylvania more than 40 years ago, it took me years to muster up the resolve to jump back into the educational world. Like many of you, I went to school at night and on weekends. It took me 10 years to go from having no college degree to completing my master's degree at Rutgers. I cannot tell you the number of times I wanted to pack it all in. Some days, the stress of work, combined with family and National Guard commitments, seemed to be more than I could stand. However, I had made a commitment to my father and to myself. After my failure at Penn, I assured my Dad that I would work to make him proud. This is something I believe I did. Before Dad died in 1988, he saw me succeed in the Newark Fire Department, the New Jersey Army National Guard, the Adelphia Fire Company and the educational world. He attended one of my commencement ceremonies and knew I had fulfilled my promise to him.

Looking back, I sometimes glance over the effort it took to reach my goal. The road was long and difficult. The goals seemed far off and lofty. The journey had its peaks and valleys. However, I am pleased with my life. I am glad that I kept pushing on in the face of frustration.

That is what this commentary is about. I am speaking of the need to persevere in the face of adversity. There is no sugar-coating here. Life is tough. You will have roadblocks and you will face enemies, but you must not quit. My buddy Jack Peltier is fond of saying, "If you give up, they win." You must push on and work toward your goals.

Many of you are in difficult situations. Maybe you work for bad bosses or are plagued by jealous co-workers. Sorry, but I cannot change that, but I can suggest that you practice the following precepts:

  • Patience
  • Prayer (if that is your way)
  • Perseverance
  • Tenacity

These will require hard work on your part. But the results should be better.

DR. HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, is a Firehouse® contributing editor. A municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, he is the former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. Dr. Carter is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Currently chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners for Howell Township District 2, he retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. He also served as chief of training and commander of the Hazardous Materials Response Team. Dr. Carter is vice president of the American Branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers (MIFireE). He recently published Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip, which was also the subject of a Firehouse.com blog. He may be contacted at drharrycarter@optonline.net.