by Bill, Exemplars, Leadership

What an Indiana School Bus Driver Could Teach 535 Members of Congress (and us) about Leadership

0 Comments 10 April 2012

Henryville School Bus

Recently, Indiana school bus driver Angel Perry was aboard her bus with 11 children when a slight (no, make that big) problem presented itself. The problem was an F4 tornado bearing down on them at close range. Resultant from Ms. Perry’s quick action, 11 school children avoided certain injury or death. Please take a moment to click the image below and watch the video before continuing.

Henryville Tornado Bus Driver


Like Ms. Perry’s school children, we (U.S. citizens) find ourselves aboard our national bus with not one, but several immediate and equally dangerous crises presenting themselves – a fiscal crisis, a trust crisis, a skills and education crisis, an energy crisis, a confidence crisis, a health care crisis (yes), and perhaps most importantly, a leadership crisis. Many of our educational, commercial, and other civic organizations face their own comparable dangers. We could certainly take a lesson from Ms. Perry’s example. Let’s deal here with the leadership aspect.

Ms. Perry knew that somebody had to lead, and although the word, “leader” is probably not reflected in either her job description or pay grade, it was required of her on that day. Such is true for many of the rest of us, whether our official job title is congressman, CEO, supervisor, or janitor.

With but a moment to summon the courage and wisdom to guide her, Ms. Perry called on her God for assistance. Then, having calmed herself, she calmed those around her, “Shh… quiet.” We’re neither qualified nor in the business of providing spiritual advice, so let’s leave it at, when in the heat of battle, you need to go wherever you need to go in order to act in a calm and rational manner.

Ms. Perry shared the big picture with her young charges. “Tornado on the ground, guys… Look, the funnel cloud” while preparing them to act. “Shh… quiet.” Since none of us operate day to day, or moment-to-moment in the “big picture”, she also shared the immediate game plan, “”We’re going back to the school.” People desperately need that type of information in order to function responsibly. Without it, they’re basically just along for the ride. Yet, in an age when we have a wealth of communications tools and techniques at our disposal, it seems safe to say that we probably do a poorer job than ever of truly making meaning, which, in our view, is one of a leader’s foremost responsibilities.

Evidencing a leadership trait that is in such short supply these days, Ms. Perry demonstrated clearly and convincingly that she cared, really cared about her young charges, first by having them count off and then “checking off” each one as they exited the bus, and then later asking if they were okay. Interested in their safety, she had previously instructed them to shield their heads with a textbook. Whoda thunk it? (That was probably the only time in history when a school textbook was truly worth its retail price. Since our own books ( often used as college texts, we’re pointing the finger at ourselves as well.) And unlike the captain of the Italian cruise ship, Costa Concordia, we’re willing to bet she was the last one off her ship, ‘er bus.

Angel Perry was, if nothing else, decisive. Knowing that her decision timeframe consisted not of weeks or months, but seconds, she demonstrated real bias for action. She also knew something that seems to regularly escape the rest of us – the fact that to make no decision is indeed a decision itself, and it is usually the wrong one. Kicking the can down the road, as so often happens in Congress, boardrooms, school board, and town hall meetings alike would have proven deadly.

Through her leadership, Ms. Perry kept that twisted and bent school bus from becoming a tomb. As we proceed from here, let’s all keep an image of a big yellow school bus seared into memory, as a reminder to emulate some of Ms. Perry’s actions, and a yardstick by which we measure the performance of others.

- who has written 56 posts on Contented Cows.

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

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