The Story of a Great Leader

If you were to ask me to describe someone who demonstrated greatness in leadership, I might be tempted to paint the picture of a larger- than- life super hero, perhaps a president, a king, or a captain of industry.

I might not come up with Roberta Guaspari.

No, Roberta would not be the first person that would come to mind when I thought about greatness in leadership.  But nevertheless, Roberta is indeed a great leader.

Roberta Guaspari teaches children to play the violin.  When she first started, she was a single parent to two young boys.  To earn her living she arranged to provide violin lessons in school to the children of East Harlem.  What she had going for her was the love of music; the ability to play and the strong desire to make a difference to children whose opportunities were limited by their circumstances.

She has a passionate vision that is clear to everyone who comes across her or her story.   Her vision is “for kids to have music in their lives”

She believes that her vision is important because music, “empowers these children with the ability to make something beautiful that allows them to believe in themselves and know they’re special” This is her primary purpose, to help children love music, play music and believe in themselves.

Roberta’s primary purpose is not about money or attention for herself.  It is about something bigger than that, much bigger.  She is a great leader because not only can she see a better future for the children she teaches, she helps them get there, even against great odds.

In 1991, Roberta’s music program was cut from the school board budget.   That meant that not only was she out of a job but the children (and their parents), who so depended on her, would lose something that had become vital to their development and future.

Roberta did not back down.

Instead, she kept her focus.  She forged relationships with people who had the power to help.  And they did.  She plucked up her courage and made much larger strides that I suspect even she thought herself capable of. Throughout it all, it seems that she never lost sight of her primary purpose.

Empathy, Vision, Focus, Determination, Courage, …and a violin, This is what makes Roberta Guaspari a great leader.

The violin, notwithstanding, I assert that these qualities are common among great leaders of all descriptions.

  • They have clear, well-articulated visions of the future
  • They lead with great will, humility and focus
  • They build strong relationships with a variety of people
  • They strive to achieve things that are greater than themselves and for the greater good

Of course you  may know that a movie about Roberta’s life and accomplishments was made, starring Meryl Streep.  If you have seen the movie, what do you think?  What have I missed?

What does greatness look like to you?  What do you want for those you lead?



Filed under Building Relationships, Leadership Values, motivating & Inspiring

2 responses to “The Story of a Great Leader

  1. Wonderful tribute to someone who truly made their life matter. Great questions, too!

    What does greatness look like to me? When any person uses the best of who they are to make a difference.

    What do I want for those I lead? To know that they truly matter and be inspired and empowered to make the difference only they can make.

  2. Gwyn Teatro

    “Any person who uses the best of who they are to make a difference”. Yes, I think this is key and it sounds very do-able too.

    Often when we think of greatness, we think about those few people who have accomplished things beyond our imaginings, things that seem unattainable. But, to your point, Susan, if we use the best of ourselves in service of others, that is a special kind of greatness and I think that Roberta demonstrates this perfectly.

    Thank you for your comments! I never fail to enjoy them.

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