How do you measure leadership?
There are all sorts of metrics you might use depending on the specific field or area. When most people think of these measures, they think of the honors, achievements or awards that an individual may earn or receive or the titles bestowed on them.
While honors and achievements are nothing to scoff at, they are more a byproduct of leadership than a true representation of what it means to be a leader.
I was thinking about this the other night while sitting at home and watching a television show with my children last week. It was one of those rare nights that we were all home and could spend time together.
My phone rang and it was Ken Coyer calling to let me know that Jack Kay had died on August 28 with services scheduled for Sept. 3 in McAllen, Texas, where Kay has lived for several years.
Jack Kay had been a fixture in Taylor County law enforcement for decades before I came to the community. He led the Medford Police Department for many years providing leadership through the transition from paper files to electronic and regional and societal change of the 80s and 90s and was part of the effort that helped make the Skate Park in the Medford City Park a reality. From 2003-2006 he served as Taylor County sheriff taking over from Donald Wright and brought his distinctive leadership style to that organization.
I recalled a summer afternoon sitting in his office at the courthouse and him talking about going out on the campaign trail for sheriff and how a person’s comment stuck out to him. Kay had been out knocking on doors with the feedback he received positive, except for one individual had told him that he would not vote for him because decades earlier he had given the man a traffic ticket. He told me he thanked the person for their time and continued knocking on doors.
Jack Kay recognized that being a leader didn’t always mean being the most popular person and that there were people who would have reasons to disagree with you and the choices you made.
Perhaps the greatest measure of leadership is in the legacy they leave behind them. In the case of Jack Kay, his legacy continues to live on. He was a boss, a mentor and a friend to his officers, providing a strong model of leadership for them to pattern in their own careers. Officers he hired went on to have long and distinguished careers in Medford with former police chiefs Ted Bever, Coyer and Bryan Carey all having served with Jack Kay and in turn passing those leadership lessons on to younger officers.
When announcing plans to step down from sheriff in 2006 at the end of a more than 40-year career in law enforcement, Jack Kay shared his thoughts with The Star News.
“When I started as a beat officer in Racine, Wisconsin I had to respond to a Police Call Box on the corner, because, there was no such thing as computers, hand held radios or DNA. I’ve seen the profession come a long way in its fight to provide a high-quality of life for the citizens of this county. I envy those who may be just starting out in the field they will learn new technologies we cannot imagine today.”
Kay, like many of his generation of leaders, bridged a gap in technology and community expectation. They helped build new processes and lay new foundations for how law enforcement would look and act. Those changes will be felt for decades to come.
Perhaps that is the ultimate sign of leadership. That you have helped make the foundation solid for others who come after you.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.