Today is a rough day. It is the day that my family and I consciously recall (I remember him daily) our youngest son, Joshua, who passed away at the age of 7 in 1996. I lit a candle in his memory, and we visited the cemetery on this blustery, cold, rainy day in LA. I have decided that I am going to memorialize him here at this time of year. I may post the same post annually, but I believe that all applicants can benefit from this lessons that Josh even in his so-short life unintentionally taught.
At the time of his diagnosis, Joshua was a typical needle-phobic little boy. When he saw or heard about a needle intended for him, he went the other way. And if prevented from heading in the opposite direction, he cried, screamed, fought, and did whatever he could.
However, after his diagnosis he learned to overcome his fears and control a small aspect of his treatment. In a memorial booklet for friends and family that I edited after he passed away, I wrote about how he learned to cope with weekly spinal taps, which required the administration of medicine to his spine and insertion of a needle into his back:
I was concerned about his handling all those [spinal taps]. I needn’t have worried…
“Joshua, you did a great job!” I told him.
Driving home after one of Joshua’s spinal taps early last year, I was praising him for his cooperation. Just six years old then, he had marched into the treatment room, climbed up onto the table, curled into a ball, and with Fran’s and Maria’s encouragement, held still without apparent difficulty. I was impressed. No, I was amazed.
He quietly accepted my accolades, but as we got off the freeway he shared the credit.
“Mommy, when you’re with good people, it is easier to be good. And we’re with really good people.”
I almost drove off the road when he said that. When I repeated this conversation to Fran, who administered test, and Maria, who coached him through this and much more, they were speechless and frankly somewhat teary-eyed.
What did these women do to earn the trust of a frightened, sick little boy? How did they obtain his cooperation and admiration?
And what does this have to do with you?
Trust is a critical element in leadership, and leadership is valued in admissions whether you are applying to med school, b-school, college, law school, or grad school. Programs want to admit people who inspire trust and who can lead. So how did they earn that trust?
Maria’s recollection of meeting Joshua provides clues:
I walked into the playroom expecting to find a different child than I met. Joshua was very quiet, soft-spoken and very scared. I remember his big eyes and how he watched me as I explained how I would be helping him in the days to come. I explained “Our Rule” about telling kids the truth and always telling them when they would be having something uncomfortable done. In the months to come, Joshua helped to enforce this rule more than any other child I’ve met. If you wanted Joshua’s trust and cooperation, you had to keep your end of the bargain first. Once that trust was established, he was able to cope with even the most painful procedures.
This unassuming woman knows that integrity is key to leadership. She knows how to establish and maintain trust. She changed behavior and attitude. She knows how to lead.
Take these lessons and apply them in your lives. Leadership is not about grandstanding or being a loud-mouth or being "cool." It’s about consistency, reliability, and trust. It’s about integrity.