All I Really Need to Know About Leadership I Learned at Home and Church

Guest blog post by Shirley Hershey Showalter, author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World (Herald Press, 2013)

Train up a child in the way she should go, and when she is old,
she will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

I never went to kindergarten. Fairland Elementary School didn’t have one.

So I can’t say kindergarten taught me all I needed to know.

Nor did I ever take a course called “leadership” even though I would later be called to be a leader. People have asked me, after they read my memoir, Blush, which ends when I leave the family farm in 1966, how my childhood relates to my later life as a professor and college president.

What was clear to me as I wrote, and now again as I engage with readers, is that I learned a lot in childhood, whether or not I recognized wisdom around me at the time.

In fact, I learned many leadership lessons from these people:

BlushExtras033 (2)Melvin Lauver and his wife Mary led the Lititz Mennonite Church as a pastoral couple. Mary was not just a “helpmeet,” she had her own sphere as a speaker, and leader of activities for women and girls.

From these two people I learned:

  • The best way to lead is by creating a team of people with complementary gifts. Affirm those gifts and connect the people to each other.
  • Pay special attention to nature. Renew yourself in prayer, meditation, and walks.
  • While on walks, gather feathers, dry weeds, create works of art out of them. Use them to make notecards and then write personal notes, hundreds of them, every year. (I still have Mary Lauver’s thank you notes in my scrapbook.)
  • Make the love of Jesus the theme of your life, and let the Light of love shine from within in your relationship to God, each other, and the world.

I also learned about leadership from these people:

Blush10-1 (2)My siblings, Doris, Sue, Henry and Linda are standing. I’m seated. My parents Richard and Barbara Ann also seated on the right.

My family taught me even more basic rules of leadership:

  • Work hard. Always give a “baker’s dozen” when making a sale and more than you are paid when you work.
  • Tell the truth. (Daddy)
  • Tell stories. (Mother)
  • Spend a lot of time on Mother’s lap listening to her read. Then read to each other and read for your own pleasure and edification.
  • Share. Don’t hit. Fight fair and then make up. (Siblings)
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.
  • When one of you hurts, all of you help.
  • We will all die, like our sister Mary Louise died after 39 days. So make this life count!

I may not have gone to kindergarten, but I learned all the lessons Robert Fulghum, the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten attributes to that setting –including this most important set of affirmations:

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”


Where or from whom did you learn your most important lessons?

Shirley’s book Blush is available from the MennoMedia store here. Shirley posts regularly at her own blog, here.