I went to the Gator Bowl parade (Jacksonville FL) last year. I am not a big fan of parades. But my niece and her high school band from Georgia were in it. And my sister and family stayed with me. So, it became a family adventure.

The parade was lead by the Grand Marshal - a lady in the back of a big car, demonstrating her perfect Queen Mary wave.

Right behind her were two local politicians in their own cars, hands flailing as they rapidly turned from side to side. They seemed to know everybody, and made sure everyone saw them.

Behind them was a band. It played a Beatles song. Cool.

Next, a disciplined troop of soldiers proudly presented the Banner of Freedom. “Thank you for your service,” we shouted.

They were followed by some cute baton-twirling majorettes tossing their magic sticks high into the air. Very high in the air.

As I waited, and waited, for proof that what comes up must come down, I realized - I was not watching a parade. I was watching forty little parades, all going in the same direction.

The parade was a microcosm of any organization. It had an overall leader – the Grand Marshal. It had assistant leaders: there were marshals following along, keeping the parade in line. And, it had all these individual groups, each doing its own thing, while they all traveled down the same road following the Grand Marshal.

Each of these smaller groups was its own organization, with a leader, assistants and smaller sections.

My mind wandered to the more basic question of leadership. What are the qualities of a leader? What characteristics do leaders possess? Do the many leaders in the parade display them? The basic traits came to mind first.

A leader must have VISION – a detailed picture of the outcome and how it all fits together. The Grand Marshal and the leaders of the bands and troupes seemed to have their visions.

A leader needs KNOWLEDGE – know what all the smaller groups are supposed to do to accomplish the organization’s goals. The Grand Marshal probably had general knowledge of the function for each group, and some logical order. The band and group leaders did know what their members were doing.

The leader must be able to COMMUNICATE – to tell everyone what needs to be done to achieve the vision. The parade’s leaders were directing the smaller groups and members.

A good DELEGATOR – the leader needs to find and direct trusted assistants who make sure all subordinates stay in line. The Grand Marshal delegated controlling roles to the other marshals. The bands and troupes had their own supervisors.

Suddenly, it struck me (no, not a baton). There were two criteria missing. Two important characteristics were not on the list. These two trumped all the others.

Can you guess what they are?


I could tell you, but that would not get the picture across well enough. Let me explain through a story.

I recently gave a speech on leadership to my club. At the end, I asked for a volunteer to join me to lead the audience in a demonstration on leadership. I did not say what the task would be.

Jim raised his hand and came up to the front. He said he believed he was a good leader, although he had not been a club officer.

He said he was ready to lead the audience in whatever task I asked, but admitted he did not know what the task was.

Of course, if he did not know the task, he could not have a VISION. That meant he had no KNOWLEDGE of what everyone was supposed to do. He could not COMMUNICATE their roles. And, he could not DELEGATE assignments to anyone else.

Nevertheless, Jim had already have demonstrated the two main criteria of a leader.

Jim had already demonstrated that he is a leader.


What did Jim do? What leadership characteristics did he exhibit?

Jim made a COMMITMENT, and he took ACTION.

He made a commitment to help me with my demonstration. And, he took action – he came up to the front.

Everyone in the audience knew the need. Everyone knew I needed a volunteer to help me with the demonstration.

A leader will make a commitment. A leader will take action.

An ancient Chinese philosopher said, “if you want to be a leader, find a parade and get to the front.”

The leaders in the Gator Bowl parade had those same traits. They made a commitment to be in the parade, and lead their section or group. They took action by preparing, practicing and taking their positions.


Are you a leader? You do not need to possess all the other characteristics (vision, knowledge, communications, delegation) right away. You will develop them as you progress. There will be others to help you, too.

What leadership needs do you see around you? Every organization needs leaders. Your club will be holding officer elections soon. Will you be one?

You could wait until someone asks for volunteers. You can delay until you hear about an opening. DON’T WAIT! Ask how you can help. Tell others in the organization that you are interested in taking a bigger role.

When you show your initiative, you not only demonstrate your leadership skills, you also show yourself that you are ready to lead. Just as importantly, you set an example for those around you.

You know the need. Take those two next steps. Make a commitment to help, to take on a role. Take action by becoming involved and serving.

Find your parade. Get to the front.

Find a need. Make a commitment. Take action.

My leader, I salute you.

Author's Bio: 

Fred Haley, published author and speaker, has been a member of Toastmasters for over 12 years. Fred has earned two Distinguished Toastmasters awards. His web site, www.TOASTMENTOR.net is “Every Toastmaster’s first stop for advice and resources.” Fred publishes a weekly ToastMentor newsletter. Contact Fred at Fred@Toastmentor.com.