Leadership Lessons Learned in Childhood


Credit: nba.com

I recently pondered my own ideals and their origins. I found great leaders hugely influenced me in childhood. Upon reflection, I wonder if you would feel the same?

My father

He always believes the best in me. He trusts that I will make good decisions. He’s happy if I’m successful. I can’t think of better traits to have in a leader. The day that I feel I disappointed him the most is when I was picked up by the police for a vandalism crime that my friend committed. When he got home from his over one hour long commute, his look of disappointment on his face struck deep to the bone. When he learned I was not responsible, he was relieved. Leaders believe in you!

Ronald Reagan

He was my president growing up. When he addressed the nation, he did it with such sincerity! I felt like I was part of a great nation. Leaders are often great communicators!

Mikhail Gorbachev

He did what was right for his people and decided that friendship and understanding was better than hostility. It wasn’t easy to make an unpopular choice in having dialogue with Reagan. It was even more difficult to decide to bring down the wall. Leaders make the right choice no matter what!

Walter Payton

I watched him break the NFL rushing record. He was everything you wanted in a football player – a great teammate, worked hard, and he represented his city. He was everything you wanted in a running back – could run, catch, block, and even throw. He finally won his Super Bowl, and he was Chicago sports to me. When he retired, he could have had all of the spoils that come with the glory of being a Chicago sports legend (see Mike Ditka). Yet, we rarely heard from him as he quietly went along still doing great works of charity in the community. Leaders do not need glory!

Michael Jordan

Everyone knows about Mike. He was the fiercest competitor team sports has seen. Leaders are fierce!

Scottie Pippen

When number 23 retired (Michael’s first retirement), he stepped up his game. He had career highs the following year in points, blocks, and rebounds. He was third in MVP voting also. He was one phantom foul on Hubert Davis away from likely leading the Bulls back to the NBA Finals.


Credit: nba.com

When the leader goes down, real leaders step up!


It may seem silly to include him on the list, but he had a profound impact on me. He makes the right decisions all of the time. His loyalty is unwavering. He is brave regardless of the odds. He has a positive attitude in the face of danger. While life sometimes doesn’t have a happy ending/outcome, he’s made me believe in happy endings. Leaders believe in happy endings!

What are some of your childhood influences on leadership? I would love to hear about them!


Author: Joe Croarkin

Husband, father of three, brother of four

3 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons Learned in Childhood”

  1. My favorite example of leadership is John Elway. I was living in Denver Colorado all by myself in the early 80s, I was barely 18. I still remember the local news filmed him walking into the locker room for the first time. I remember that like yesterday. Not only did he become one of the best at the game but a brilliant business man as well. He was never arrogant and never took all the credit for the success of the team. A true team leader in my book!


    1. Hey Bret,

      Thanks for sharing! Definitely a great example of leadership. No one ever deserves all of the credit. It’s funny how people we watch can sometimes have a huge impact on our world.



      1. Joe,
        Great post. Another one to add to the list is Leaders are not prefect. Pippen and Elway are good examples of this statement. Remember game 3 of Bulls vs Knicks series in 1994 when Scottie Pippen took himself out of the game because he didn’t like the play calling for Kukoc to shoot the final shot. Or that John Elway almost passed on play football in favor to playing baseball because the Colts were going to draft and he ended up forcing a trade to the Broncos.



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