Regular readers of this column may notice a small change to the bio blurb that runs below. It’s shorter. The line about being the founder and president of the Polk Aviation Alliance has been removed, because although I remain the founder, I am no longer the president. I’ve resigned.
My local newspaper, which seems to be struggling to decide whether it wants to be more of a National Enquirer sort of sensationalist rag or a TMZ sort of sensationalist rag, ran my resignation as a front page story.
It was predictably less enthusiastic with coverage when presented with our successes.
For instance, when the JetBlue Foundation awarded the Alliance and SUN ‘n FUN a grant to purchase tools and supplies to train A&P mechanics in the local school system, that wasn’t deemed newsworthy. When we blazed a trail by putting the management of public schools, a college, three municipally owned airports, two large aviation themed tourist attractions, and various private businesses in the same room to talk education and economic development, that was considered unworthy of print, too.
The successes were many, but few of them were of sufficient interest to the editors of the local fish-wrapper to report on. A resignation however, that’s a different thing entirely. It smells of failure, dissent, personal conflict, and maybe even a scandal of some sort. That they’ll run. That’s news. Or at least they can make it look like news.
I am happy to report that after years of public service and more than a few uphill battles, I am a simple, private citizen again. A writer. A flight instructor. An airplane mechanic. More importantly, I’m somebody’s husband, and a fairly engaged dad to three spectacular kids who range in age from 15 to 30 years old. That’s what matters in my life. Not my title.
In my political life I am an interchangeable component in a large and growing machine that will chug along just fine without me. That’s as it should be. That’s what I’ve been shooting for. It’s part of the design.
That’s an important facet of my journey to this point. I hope you won’t gloss over it, dear reader. In fact, I hope you’ll understand my perspective, adopt it, and apply it in your own life. This is one of the more critical lessons I’ve learned in my life. For an individual to create real change, they need to inspire a group. For the group to be truly effective, it requires leadership. For a leader to have lasting value, they must be willing to step aside when the time comes.
This is a counter-intuitive concept, but it is true. History is filled with examples of leaders who stepped aside rather than cling to power. The movements they were a part of thrived in some cases and collapsed in others. But the creation must be given a chance to stand on its own at some point. The man (or woman) at the head of the organization cannot — must not — become the focal point of the movement at the expense of the stated mission.
Put another way, I have been designed to have a limited life. I will get old, weak, infirm, and eventually die. The same is true for you. The same is true for all of us. But there is no such limitation on organizations that are intended to achieve a specific purpose.
Ford Motor Co. has outlived its creator by decades, as has Harley Davidson, which was established in the same year. That was also the year two brothers from Ohio made a name for themselves on the sandy coast of North Carolina — a place with few inhabitants and limited prospects. Orville and Wilbur saw things differently, worked hard, and changed the world as a result of that vision and effort.
You are not much different from the founders of the car, motorcycle, and aircraft industries. Really, you’re not.
My home is in a lush green place called Polk County, Florida. It’s smack dab in the middle of the state, just to the right of Tampa on a map.
Like most places, we are represented by politicians who lack the critical attributes of vision and drive. Aviation is often considered to be a slur rather than a point of pride here, just as it probably is where you live.
And even though the industry brings tens of millions of dollars to our region each year, the aeronautically ignorant among us fail to grasp the potential general aviation offers us. They are willingly blinded by their own smokescreen of politically correct gibberish and persistent efforts to avoid doing anything that might possibly lose them a vote in the next election.
That is exactly why the Polk Aviation Alliance came in to being. It is an entity that benefits from a deep pool of talent, men and women who know their business and are capable of doing amazing things when given the chance. And so we seize those opportunities, and create those chances whenever possible. For its outreach and educational benefits alone, it’s an organization that deserves respect.
It is my hope that others will emulate the success we’ve found here through the Alliance. Learn from what we’ve done. Copy the model we’ve pioneered and make it your own. Customize it to your own advantage and run with it. Make the most of this new method of carrying aviation into the mainstream of politics, education, and commerce and don’t even think about looking back.
I can be replaced, as I should be. But I can also make a difference while I’m in the game. And I did. More importantly, so can you. All you have to do is commit yourself to an idea, and make it happen. Do it!