Lake Forest author Frank LaFasto explores why seemingly ordinary individuals do extraordinary things.
What makes some people help those in need and others not?
It was a question that authors Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson set out to answer. In their new book, The Humanitarian Leader in Each of Us: 7 Choices That Shape a Socially Responsible Life, they discovered that humanitarian leaders—those who care for others—are strikingly similar at their core, regardless of their age, gender, culture, or economic status.
“It all begins with leveraging your own life experiences into empathy for others,” says Frank, who after five years of research and interviews with more than 30 people, identified that humanitarian leaders face a series of critical choices—from connecting with the needs of others, to taking action that makes a difference, to inspiring others to join their cause.
One of the most poignant examples of this in the book is the story of a 6-year-old Canadian boy, Ryan Hreljac, who was troubled that there were children his age in other parts of the world who didn’t have access to clean water. So, he asked his parents if he could do extra chores around the house so that he could fund a well. Ryan turned his passion into a series of fundrasiers, and today he’s raised more than $2 million to provide wells on three continents.
Frank’s interest in the human character was piqued after a career at Cardinal Health as a Senior Vice President of Organization Effectiveness. An internationally recognized author and lecturer on leadership and management, Frank has more than 35 years of experience helping organizations build and sustain successful teams and develop executive talent.
“Humanitarian leaders have a predisposition to respond,” Franks says, as he tells the story of Fr. Gary Graf, a former pastor at Holy Family Church in Waukegan. One Friday, Fr. Gary answered the phone after others from the office had gone home for the weekend. It was a parishioner asking if Fr. Gary might launch a campaign at church to help him find a match for a liver transplant he desperately needed. Without thinking, Fr. Gary volunteered himself to be tested as a liver donor. This man wasn’t related to Fr. Gary in any way, they were acquaintances at best. Yet Fr. Gary sacrificed himself to save the life of his parishioner.
“I’m always humbled when I hear of the first steps a person took, when no one was looking, when no one was cheering them on,” Frank says.
Although Frank and Carl spotlighted individuals like Fr. Gary who literally gave of themselves for the sake of another, they don’t want others to be discouraged from taking action because they feel they can’t give as much.
“There’s a vast difference between not doing enough and doing nothing at all,” explains Frank, pointing out that many people who want to do good often get stuck with where to begin. “What was remarkable about the people we talked about in the book is that everyone started small, unsure of where that first step would lead them.”
It was for this reason that Frank and Carl told the stories of the 31 humanitarian leaders that they did. “These individuals are modeling the way for others. They’re showing what is possible. They make leadership accessible,” Frank says. “I believe that people often become the people they admire most. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone just did one small thing for someone else?”
Thanks to Frank’s book, we might someday know.
—Ann Marie Scheidler