Once in a very great while, someone comes along who changes the scope of a job, and does it so well as to become an icon.
We lost one of those guys last week when Ben Bradlee died at age 93.
For 26 years, Bradlee ran the Washington Post’s newsroom, transforming the Post into one of the finest news organizations in the world.
He guided the paper’s coverage of some of the biggest news stories of the last century, including Watergate and the Pentagon Papers.
Bradlee was a legendary newspaper editor. His standards were high, and under his leadership, the Post earned 17 Pulitzer Prizes.
Circulation of the paper doubled during his tenure.
Bradlee was an innovator, and a master at surrounding himself with talented people and leading them to success.
I wouldn’t be surprised if one were to look up “editor” in the dictionary and see his photo.
I suspect Bradlee’s legacy will put him in a class with others who have been legendary in their careers.
When we hear the name Frank Lloyd Wright, for instance, we think of architecture.
And the name Ansel Adams always conjures up images of photography.
When we think of Walt Disney, it is difficult to separate the man from the movies his studio produced. In fact, the term “Disney movie” denotes a genre of family-friendly films that he produced.
References to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates make us think of computers.
It would likely be impossible to hear the name Harland Sanders without smelling fried chicken and picturing the colonel with his white goatee and frock coat.
Sam Walton will be forever associated with discount retail stores.
Ray Kroc is synonymous with the burger chain he founded.
There are many other people who stood out in their respective fields, and helped re-define the jobs they did.
These people all have incredible drive and stamina.
Many failed, started over, and achieved success. Some did so more than once.
They share an ability to lead and influence people.
They had a vision, and the commitment to turn that vision into something real.
That is part of what makes them stand apart.
If one has a vision without the commitment, one might simply be a dreamer. It takes dedication to take it to the next level.
These people demonstrated a great deal of confidence, both in themselves and in their ideas. They didn’t let anyone or anything stand in the way of achieving their goals.
I try to remember this when I meet or read about someone who seems to have these characteristics.
If someone seems unusually confident, I try not to dismiss it as simple arrogance.
If someone insists on coloring outside the lines, or his ideas seem to defy conventional wisdom, I try to remember that being different doesn’t make him wrong.
I suspect there were plenty of times the icons of the past seemed weird or insufferable to those around them, but that does not diminish their genius.
That’s why I try to keep an open mind.
The guy who seems to be marching to his own drum just may be the next Ben Bradlee or Frank Lloyd Wright.
And, if by some remote chance I happen to have a brush with greatness as I stroll along the path of life, I want to be sure I’m paying attention when I do.
One never knows. Some of that magic may rub off, and one just might learn something new.