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. Nonetheless I believe she is just that, 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 for children whose opportunities were limited by their circumstances.
She has a clear and passionate vision which is simply,“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 Roberta’s primary purpose, to help children love music, play music and believe in themselves. It is not about money or attention for herself but 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, 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 than I suspect even she thought herself capable of. Throughout it all, it seems 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.
And, (the violin, notwithstanding), such qualities exist in other great leaders, each of whom typically:
- Have clear, well-articulated visions of the future
- Lead with great will, humility and focus
- Build strong alliances with a variety of people
- Strive to achieve things that are greater than themselves and for the greater good
To demonstrate that the kind of leadership I describe can bring great results, here is a clip of Roberta Guaspari presenting her students at Carnegie Hall in a fine performance accompanied by Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman and Mark O’Connor.
Great leadership Indeed. that’s what I think anyway. What do you think?
Note: This is a refreshed version of a post I wrote in 2010.