Leaders Aren’t Always, or Even Usually, Politicians

I never met Red McCombs, the billionaire San Antonio businessman, who died at 95 today.

But I’ve seen and felt his leadership in this city as long as I’ve lived here, and so have you.

From Hemisfair and moving the Dallas Chapparals basketball team here to become the ABA (and then NBA) San Antonio Spurs, to the sprawling automotive and energy companies that bear his name, to the establishment of Clear Channel Radio (now IHeart Communications), to the countless known and unknown acts of charity, it was a full and busy life.

Clear Channel is the company that hired and moved me to San Antonio, and that move changed my life.

Many of us have at one time shopped for or bought a car from one of those dealerships, or rooted for the Spurs. He left his mark everywhere you look in this town.

Red McCombs became unimaginably wealthy from all this, and powerful too.

He never held elective office, as far as I know, and that’s my point.

We too often associate “leader” with “politician” or “office holder”, even making them synonyms.

If an elected official is also a leader, that’s pure coincidence. Having a title, or winning over some votes, no more makes you a leader than having a good day at mini-golf makes you Tiger Woods.

Every place I’ve ever lived or spent time in seemed to have its “political class” and its “do-er class”—men and women who moved the needle, built things, drove growth, raised money for good causes and lifted up others while still doing just fine for themselves, too. They couldn’t make you do anything. But they could often convince or persuade people to build, fund or donate the things that matter.

The politicians we will always have.

The do-ers we will always need.

Today, Red McCombs’ family and friends can reflect on a life that did more, and left behind more progress and opportunity, than a busload of SA or Texas politicians, choose your party.

Politicians are elected to titles and the perks of holding an office.

Leaders roll up their sleeves.

Thanks, Red.

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