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High school students get a lesson in leadership

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By Ron Benningfield

A good leader follows the Golden Rule in that he is more interested in others than in himself.
That was the tenet Mark Needham, special assistant to Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, shared with Teens Leading Kids at LaRue County High School Jan. 19.
Needham, executive director and chairman of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs, should know leadership. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1982 earning a bachelor of science degree in engineering and a commission as an armor officer.  
Over his 26-year Army career he has held numerous command and staff assignments in Germany, the Balkans and the United States.
He has commanded an armor battalion at Fort Knox and was an instructor at the Joint and Combined Warfighting School in Norfolk, Va. He has served as the Garrison Commander at Fort Knox responsible for the day-to-operations of the installation and in this role he also directed the planning and execution of all Base Realignment and Closure recommendations affecting Fort Knox.
Needham said he wanted students to see that a leader, especially in the army, is not the stereotypical one who barks out orders in a loud voice. Rather, he is a person who possesses certain traits, four of which he shared with the TLK students.
“In addition to being more interested in others than self, the leader must be passionate about what he does as that can become contagious; he must have vision in understanding where to take the organization; and he must be a masterful communicator, but in simple and clear language,” he said.
After retiring from the army with the rank of colonel, Needham has been in his current position for three years. He considered his military service a learning experience not only for the immediate tasks at hand, but for the leadership skills he observed among those officers in positions of authority over him.
“I wrote down some of the things they said that involved leadership (such as ‘Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves’) and kept them in mind,” he said. “I also learned that sometimes one has to ‘push the envelope,’ to take risks in a leadership role to improve.”
Christian Pope, a junior who listened to Needham’s 30-minute address, said the talk gave him an example of how he should conduct himself to improve.
“His ideas of being able to communicate and to unselfishly work with others are things a person can use, no matter what field he enters after school,” said Pope, who plans on being a psychologist.
Another junior, Ashley Cottrell, was impressed by Needham’s sharing his varied experiences.  
“I liked the part about taking risks to improve,” she said. “I realized that it’s better to start changing for improvement than to do nothing. Even if the move is in the wrong direction, a person can change course later.”
Paul Mullins, LCHS principal, noted, “It’s good for our student leaders to meet someone with so many experiences in leadership. It helps pass the torch of leadership on to them.”
TLK members include Haylee Best, Caleb Canter, Cottrell, Paul Dangerfield, Alisha Durbin, Brandon Henning, Haley Holt, Ryan Hornback, Cole Hughes, Maggie Mather, Marshall Metcalf, Pope, James Reding, Kayla Skaggs, Tyler Skaggs and Zachary Thurman. Marsha Duncan, youth service center coordinator, and LCHS guidance counselor Kristi Wright are the group’s advisers.