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Art Callaham: Leaders come in many shapes, sizes, calibers

June 02, 2013|By ART CALLAHAM

This was an absolutely great Mail Call item from Maugansville on May 6: “I’m very glad that Kellan Bermudez enjoys his job, being shot out of a cannon. That’s very interesting to watch. But if he ever retired, where will they ever get another man of his caliber?”

An old circus joke, but so funny nonetheless. In my life, I’ve heard the joke numerous times, but it still made me laugh.  However, after finishing the good laugh, I began to think about the concept of “a man of his caliber.” Is “high caliber” good or is “low caliber” better? What is caliber in relation to humans?

Let’s look at the word. Caliber is, according to the dictionary, “the degree of mental capacity or moral quality; or the degree of excellence or importance; or the diameter of a bullet or other projectile; or the diameter of a bore of a gun usually expressed in hundredths or thousandths of an inch and typically written as a decimal fraction such as .32 caliber; or the diameter of a round or cylindrical body, especially the internal diameter of a hollow cylinder.”

How wonderful is our English language? One word can be used to describe mental capacity, moral quality, excellence or importance, bullet and gun size or hollow cylinder size. Does that mean that those who deal in guns, bullets and pipes are moral and smart?

Does using higher caliber bullets, guns or pipes make you smarter or more moral? Or is the lower caliber less important or not so excellent?  Does the one with the highest caliber always win? Does size really matter?

Moving away from guns, bullets and pipes, what caliber do we look for in humans? What makes up a “high-caliber” person? What are the characteristics of high caliber? What’s missing in people of low caliber?

Gosh, I could write a book. So let’s narrow the subject of characteristics and caliber to leadership. What makes a high-caliber leader? 

Age: Young or old? Or does age matter at all? If not age, is it experience? Are “new and fresh ideas” or “let’s try something new or different” better or worse than “I’ve always done that this way and it does/doesn’t work?”

Risk taking: Does taking risks make a leader higher or lower caliber? Does a high-caliber leader realize it is virtually impossible to have all of the data analyzed before a decision is made? Does a low-caliber leader wait for all of the data and let potential success or failure pass by with time?

Education or training: Does having education or training make a leader higher caliber? Remember, one definition of caliber speaks to mental capacity or moral quality or excellence and importance.

Intelligence: Are high-caliber people smart and low-caliber people not so smart? I just can’t help thinking about the intellectual caliber of the guy shot out of the cannon. High or low?

Communication: Do high-caliber leaders communicate well or do high-caliber leaders just communicate loudly?  How about low-caliber leaders? Do they “speak softly and carry a big stick?”

Eloquence: Is smooth talking or eloquent writing ability the mark of a high-caliber leader? How about boldness and the amount of words spoken or written? What about clear and concise in terms of the caliber of the speech or written documents? Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was about 268 words in length; the Obama administration’s health care law was 2,000-plus written pages.

Personality: Are all high-caliber leaders pleasant to be around and all low-caliber leaders gruff, aloof and unapproachable?  Lincoln was approachable to a fault and Harry Truman might well have been aloof and unapproachable, yet both are usually deemed high-caliber presidents.

Hiring, appointing or electing high-caliber leaders is, and will remain, a crapshoot. Roll the dice and see what you get. I recall a study conducted many years ago that sought to identify personal characteristics of high-caliber military leaders.

Years of research revealed the most common personal characteristic of great military leaders was (drum roll, please) “thin lips.” Luscious lips and fat lips need not apply. Chicken lips, on the other hand, have the inside track to military leadership greatness.

Lip size, personality, eloquence, communication skills, intelligence, education, ability to take risks, age and many other factors that speak to the caliber of a leader are mostly revealed in retrospect.

So, just “roll them bones.”

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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