Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The speed of the leader determines the pace of the pack.”

In fact, that saying was on a poster I once treasured. As a young first lieutenant in the Air National Guard anxious to make my mark, I couldn’t wait to put those words into practice. When the commander of our squadron put me in charge of convoying our 52-member radar unit (along with equipment) from Gulfport, Mississippi to Alcoa, Tennessee, I knew this was my chance to make the trip in record time and show my leadership ability.

All I had to do was to keep a constant fast pace up front and everyone would follow accordingly. Just for insurance, I made sure that my number two was in back to push the laggards (for context, think of an endless line of military vehicles you see on the interstate that causes civilian road rage).

My trophy run did not go quite as planned. I never anticipated a deuce and a half running out of gas, another truck literally getting lost, a radar van flat tire nor my designated yeller in the back losing all radio communications. We limped in about four hours late and the commander was furious.

Predictably, I went home and tore that poster off the wall. I made up my own quote, which read, “the speed of the leader determines the pace of the pack, as long as each pack member is fully trained, has a great attitude, is properly resourced, is aware of (and understands) the plan with all its complexities and the leader is in control of all variables.”

I learned a lot with that experience. As a community we need to move rapidly toward what we believe is a bright future. We have more jobs than we have people in the labor force. Leadership throughout the community is committed and getting things done.

Nevertheless, we can only go as fast as our people can. Not everyone is qualified for the jobs we have. Despite many in the community excelling, we have many that are not. I implore everyone in the community to commit themselves to excellence, lifelong learning and hard work. But also to open their hearts to help even one other person or family in the community to raise its standard of living, its education level and its quality of life.

The speed of the pack depends upon it.

Ray Hagerman serves as president of the Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation.

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