top of page

What it Takes to be a Leader

Louis & Helene, 1927

I’d like to introduce you to some people who were very calm and yet assertive and very much leaders in their own right. First, my maternal grandfather, Louis D. Behner, Sr. Born in the late 1870’s in Germany, he retired from both the U.S. Navy as a Chief and the U.S. Coast Guard as a Chief Warrant Officer. He spent his teenage years growing up on Rockaway Beach, Long Island where he was a lifeguard and had a storied past of lifesaving. As a military supervisor (as a signalman in the Coast Guard) he was instrumental in creating the communications headquarters at 4th & Penman Road in Jacksonville Beach and then he and his men strung wire and communications lines from there to Trinidad.

My mom, Helene, would tell stories about what kind of a leader he was – the kind that was so well-respected but loved by those he served with that it would not be unusual for him to go out drinking with the squad one night and the next day have to discipline someone for an error. And their respect for him did not waiver nor did it diminish his ability to lead.

However, he was a quiet yet powerful man who did not wear his power on his sleeve. I remember the first time I was with him while he drove through the main gate at Mayport Naval Station after being retired for probably decades at that point. The guards all snapped to attention and saluted as we were waved past and he returned that salute while he drove past. To me he was mild-mannered Granddaddy, but he was much more than that to the people who respected what he had EARNED.

The next introduction is to my parents. My mom was 5’2” tall and weighed 95 lbs. Also of German heritage, she would not back down from any fight, especially one that involved her “pack”. My father, Ben DiFranza, was first generation Italian and was very much like my grandfather – quiet, reserved, but in touch. I remember when I was 10 I had been in judo for over a year, competing all over the state. And I hadn’t won a match ever. My year younger brother had been winning trophies almost since he started. While at a tournament where I, once again, lost I couldn’t contain my frustration and started crying while sitting in the stands watching my brother win. My dad (who, along with my mom was very supportive of us) looked at me and asked what was wrong. I answered that I was always losing and my brother was always winning. He looked at me and quietly asked, “Whose fault is it that you keep losing?” Then he went back to watching the other matches. That changed my perspective at that young age. Five national championships and seven international titles haven’t caused me to forget those words.

Why am I putting this in a dog blog? Because the leaders we need to be we can model after these folks: my mom wouldn’t give up on trying to succeed (by the way, I’m the first in this family to have graduated high school, let alone college thanks to both World War I & II – yet everyone in my family was extremely well-read and highly intelligent). My grandfather being that leader who could play with the troops yet still be their disciplinarian. And my dad who would look at an issue and ponder how he would fix it.

Pack leaders must be able to play, and direct, and correct while working alongside of their team. We should figure a way that will be the best way to accomplish a new goal and be the most productive. A new way to view a problem and have the team be successful while not doing it for them. And the tenacity to not give up because it’s hard, or daunting, or even frustrating. Role models exist for us to look at what they do, try to make it our own, and – above all – make it better than it could ever be!

Until the next time, stay calm, assertive, and be a leader for your pack!

Helene & Ben, 1944
Featured Posts
bottom of page