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This article is one of a four-part series adapted from Les McKeown’s book, Do Lead, in which Les examines four ways in which anyone can start leading, by starting small; starting big; starting early - or even starting late.
Like any five-year-old boy might, Thomas wanted a kid brother. It would be so cool – someone to hang around with, maybe boss about a little. But unlike most five-year-olds, Thomas was very clear about where he wanted his baby brother to come from.
He wanted his parents to adopt a younger brother … from Russia.
When Thomas first suggested the idea, his mum did what any sensible mother would do when faced with a ridiculous demand from a five-year-old.
She said, ‘Yes, dear, I’ll think about it, and we can talk about it another time.’ She assumed that that would be the end of it.
Except it wasn’t.
Thomas brought it up again. And again. And again.
Christmases went by, birthdays went by, fads came and went, and Thomas, like any little boy, waxed hot and cold over many things. Except his little brother. The one he wanted adopted from an orphanage in Russia. That never went away.
And as the months turned into years, and Thomas persisted in pressing his case, his mum and dad began to actually consider the possibility.
Initially in equal parts amused, bemused and intrigued by the possibility, the idea took root, growing over time into a mission – now for them, every bit as much as for Thomas.
Web searches led to phone calls, then exploratory discussions and seemingly endless paperwork. Then, in a flurry, tickets, flights, hotels, snow, cold, buildings, people … and a baby.
Then more paperwork. A seemingly endless wait.
A phone call, a hurried flight, and finally, three years after first mooting the idea, Thomas watched as his mother carried Nicholas, his adopted baby brother, into their home.
The story could end there, and I could find a way to draw some sort of leadership lesson from it. But it isn’t the adoption that tells the real leadership story.
It’s what happened next.
Having got his long-wished-for baby brother, Thomas of course experienced the same sort of post-acquisition regret that even a new puppy brings.
And on more than one occasion, out of sheer frustration with Nicholas (and, perhaps, having miscalculated what the loss of status as an only child would do to his personal esteem), Thomas would plead with his mum to send him back to the orphanage.
But such moments were few and far between, and as Thomas and Nicholas grew together, Thomas decided there was some work he’d left undone.
Realizing that there were many more orphans just like Nicholas, unadopted, back in the orphanage, and spurred by his mother’s description of the harsh conditions under which they lived, Thomas (by now having reached the grand age of nine), unprompted by his parents, launched what was to become an annual Christmas Appeal to send shoes to the children in Nicholas’s former orphanage.
Now in its third year, Thomas has so far succeeded in raising the money to purchase and ship over 80 pairs of slippers and shoes to Russia, as well as winter coats, summer clothes and toys.
At nine years of age, Thomas firmly believed he could make something happen in the world.
By setting up a website, talking to the world through video about his passion, and making a specific and simple request of them (give me money to send shoes to orphans), he learned that he could move people into taking action.
For a nine-year-old, a very big lesson indeed.
As a side note, his mother adds that he has also learned that he likes it. She said:
‘He really likes leading this project. He may moan and groan when it’s time to pack the boxes or when he doesn’t get anything on the shopping trips, but in the end, he is really pleased that a) he is giving to these orphans and b) that he got a group of people to help make it happen.’
Most importantly, Thomas has learned not to give up.
For him, sending shoes and clothes is just a stepping stone. Based on what his mother told him, Thomas’s original wish was to make sure the orphanage had clean water, but the orphanage director didn’t see that as a priority.
So he agreed to do something the director would value (sending shoes and clothing), building the relationship, and to wait for the right time to ask once more about clean water.
Every time he starts a new fundraising project, Thomas asks his mother if it’s time to do ‘the water thing’.
And while he gets frustrated that the timing still isn’t right, it doesn’t stop him from doing something that truly makes a difference.
So, if after reading this book you’re asking yourself, ‘Am I ready to lead yet, or should I wait a while?’ just think of Thomas.
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