Great Leaders as Unsung Heroes

I’ve often stated that Great Leaders are all around us. On this Memorial Day Weekend, I would like to salute some of those “unsung heroes”, Great Leaders who had an impact on my life.

As the Scoutmaster at my first Boy Scout Summer Camp, Irv Satzke personified the Great Leader who genuinely cared about those he had been given the privilege of leading. He hiked with us; camped with us; ate with us; joked with us. Above all else, he cared about us and wanted ensure that we had a good time and camp and derived all of the growth opportunities that summer camp could provide to us.

That first year at summer camp, I decided to earn the Canoeing Merit Badge. Frankly, I don’t know why I chose it. I’d never been in a canoe in my life. It just sounded fun, so I signed up for it. Late in the week, we had to demonstrate our ability to survive outside of the canoe. First, we had to jump into the water, fully clothed, and convert our pants into a flotation device by tying knots in the pant legs, swinging them over our heads to fill them with air and then floating on top of the inflated pants while we kicked from one end of the pool to the other. Then, we had to “swamp” the canoe, tip it until it filled with water, and after getting out of the canoe, we had to lift it above our heads and empty it so that it would, once again, float on top of the water rather than under the surface. Finally, we had to get ourselves back into the canoe and paddle it the length of the pool. The merit badge class had a number of people in it and each of us had to wait our turn. Mine finally came at the end of the day as the sun was setting.

Anyone who has been to the Mogollon Rim country of Arizona will know what I’m about to describe. Those who have not … well, I’ll just have to ask that you accept it on faith. The sun does not really set at Camp Geronimo. It disappears … suddenly. Daylight turns into pitch darkness and the temperature drops from comfortably warm (even uncomfortably warm) to downright cold in a flash. By the time I completed the swamping of the canoe, swimming and paddling the length of the pool, it was cold and dark; and, I was wet, cold, and hungry. Even though the camp rules said you always had to travel with a buddy, I was the only one in my troop who had taken canoeing, so I knew I would have to hike back to our campsite (literally, a long uphill climb) by myself.

As I approached the gate that let us out of the pool enclosure, I saw Mr. Satzke waiting for me. He wrapped his jacket around me and walked me back to camp. Along the way, I remember he congratulated me for sticking with the class until I’d completed the requirements; for not complaining about being cold. He made me feel like I’d accomplished far more than just completing a couple of requirements for a merit badge. He told me that my perseverance and determination showed that I was destined for great things.

Irv Satzke was and always will be, in my opinion, a Great Leader … he cared about not only me, but about every Scout in our troop. He never sought praise or recognition for what he did and I don’t believe for a moment that I was the only Scout for which he performed this type of small acts of kindness. For the Great Leader, it is enough to know that the follower has been helped to see and reach his/her full potential.

Tom Hoisington is a speaker, trainer, and author whose goal is to provide leaders and potential leaders with tools that empower them to build teams that are creative and cost effective along with a clearer understanding of how personality types interact within those teams. He can be contacted at

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