Q.E.D. - What Makes a Leader?

A captain of this year's championship-winning varsity football team; a member of the reigning state championship Speech & Debate team; our Vice Principal who is an alum; and the Vice Principal of our Middle School and of Mission Integration all convene to answer the question that in a school where boys are challenged to high standards in all their pursuits where do leaders come from and how is leadership encouraged and handed-down to the rising underclassmen?

The question is set. All the panel has to do is demonstrate its truth, hence Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

True or false: Leaders are born not made?

Karl Danso ’04: When I think about leadership, I think about not just meeting the standard, but holding other people accountable to that standard. So, Ed, in your CM football career can you think about going from freshman year to senior year and how you became a captain? Do you think you were born to play this role or is that something that teachers coaches helped you develop?

Ed Ellis Jr. ’22: It’s kind of both. But I did have to work for it. I’m not going to say I was born to be a captain, but that’s what I got because I worked at it…and had fun doing it too.

Danso: You were given an opportunity to be a leader in just doing the right things: showing up to the lifts, showing up to practice on time…with your shirt tucked in…all of that. But then the difference from freshman year of meeting those standards to your senior year is telling guys, “Hey, make sure you’re at the gym at this time, make sure that you’re tucking your shirt in,” right?

Ellis Jr.: Right, you lead by example.

Jack Hood ’22: I think that when you enter CM, you’re at a very important time in your life. You’re expected to form some sort of greater meaning of who you are and what you want to do with your life. And one of the paths is choosing the path of leadership…choosing the path of being there for your community. I would say that in someone’s time at CM, they can go on that journey and become a leader.
Do you see boys coming in who display leadership qualities from the get-go? Or do you see boys who come in who perhaps don’t exemplify this but grow into that role?

Kevin Durazo: I guess this answers the earlier question as well as this one: good leaders are made. I give a talk on our Kairos retreat called “Leaders.” And I ask the students, “Do you consider yourself a leader? Put your head down, close your eyes, raise your hand if you do.” And just a few hands go up. I then give them my definition of leadership, which is the ability to influence others with your thoughts, your words, or your actions. Then I ask, “Who has the ability to influence others with their thoughts, their words, or their actions? Close your eyes, put your head down, and raise your hand.” And everyone’s hands go up. And so, I think this journey at CM is one that everyone comes in with a preconceived notion of leadership. When in truth, boys are given the opportunity, here, to rise to the occasion and recognize that with their words, their thoughts, their actions, they can influence others, and then people embrace that at different times.

Hood: When you enter into an activity as a freshman, like theater, or speech and debate, it’s not something you’re very familiar with. So, when you go into those activities, and you meet a strong group of kids who are really dedicated to something, you think, “Wow, this is something people really care about.” And over time, hopefully you develop that same love as those more experienced kids. And then, by junior year you realize that what you really want to do is cultivate that same culture among underclassmen. I think every activity has to put an emphasis on seniors and upperclassmen and improving the culture of it…even sports. I really think that’s what being a leader is. It’s being there for an underclassman when they need help. It’s guiding them through the activity.

Ellis Jr.: I have never really been a vocal leader. I’m just not that kind of person. I try to lead by example like getting to school early, every day. I live far away but try to get here by 7:15 to 7:30 a.m. each morning to show others, “You can do this. You can make it here on time.”

Jack, Ed. Can you speak to leaders who you have experienced while at CM and who you’ve learned from?

: I would say that the most guidance I received early on came from Michael McCarthy, who was in the Class of 2019 and was a senior in speech and debate when I arrived. Mike would help me refine my talking points and do research on topics. And Brother Cavet wasn’t making him do this. He was doing it because it was a program that he cared about that he wanted to cultivate future success by creating a sort of snowball effect from kids wanting to contribute to an already successful program. I think that’s a big part of student leadership.

Ellis Jr.: The one person who I who I really looked up to, and I thought was a leader was Zach Goodwin, Class of 2020. It was just the way he carried himself on and off the field. And people loved him around here. He did great things in the classroom and on the field. I was grateful to have him as an example to show me the way.

Within the ranks of the student body how are leaders viewed and accepted?

Sometimes to be a good leader requires you to, in the immediate, do something unpopular especially with your peers. It’s a double-edged sword, and definitely a challenge that isn’t for everyone.

Hood: The hardest thing to do is changing the narrative and say that this isn’t about you, as a student, or a member of a team or club, it’s about you, the person. And this is not going to be a positive influence on your character, it does not reflect who I think you are, who I think you are capable of being. So it’s hard to not come across as someone who’s just strictly abiding by the rules, but ultimately, a good student leader comes off differently than someone who’s just pushing what the faculty wants.

Durazo: That’s a great point. A leader’s authority comes from their authenticity.
Today, leaders trend towards bright burning, flashy characters. Whereas once upon a time, they were personified more as steadfast, disciplined, and dependable. How much of these two characteristics do you see at CM? And is one encouraged more than the other?

Durazo: What pops up is the importance of community. In different times, different contexts you need different types of leaders. But I don’t think there’s one archetype that exemplifies leadership, certainly not that we talk about, here. And I think at CM it comes back to faith. We have a mission that is challenging us to think about how are we helping those who are most in need. That’s our litmus test for good leadership. It’s not, hey, look at me, look at the wonderful things I've done. It’s how are we making a positive impact on others.

Danso: I think often of when you’re talking about different types of leaders there’s the encourager side and enforcer side. I think it’s really important for leaders to have both of those traits. You can be charismatic and have influence, but you also need to cultivate and develop those skills of knowing when the people around you need encouragement and uplifting, and when they need a little kick in the pants. To Kevin’s point earlier of, you know, as a leader, sometimes you need to say and do things that are unpopular, but it’s for the betterment of our community, our program, and our team.

Hood: What really makes leadership possible is the support systems that allow people to use their positive traits. You introduce those and it betters that community. You don’t need to be someone who you are not. If you’re not a loud or outspoken kid that’s fine. But you can still be a leader by just being there and being a good friend. Leadership doesn’t have to be this very loud, public display. It’s a good thing that CM is a school, where the value of having a community is recognized, because it allows kids who don’t have those typical leadership qualities to find a role of leadership within the greater student body.

Danso: I love that. What are someone’s gifts and talents? And how do these help build this community. And I think we see that often in team captains where they may not be your best player, but they bring gifts and talents that have an important role on the team and spreads across the team. That’s great.