A Quiet Leader

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The Quiet Sheriff

 

He was my sheriff and one of the quietest leaders I’ve known.

 

Friday, September 23, 2005

10:00 AM CDT

DeRidder, Louisiana

There was palpable tension and anxiety in the crowded meeting room. Over a hundred Beauregard Parish leaders had gathered for a final briefing on Hurricane Rita.

This strong category five storm was poised to slam into Southwest Louisiana the coming night. Less than a month had passed since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, so there was added tension in the room.

 

My home parish was in the crosshairs.  The fear of the unknown was the worst part. What would our communities and homes look like tomorrow morning?  SW Louisiana hadn’t experienced a major hurricane since June 1957 when a deadly storm named Audrey struck.  

 

Our Office of Emergency Preparedness Director led the briefing.  He spoke of what to expect and fielded questions from our group. 

 

Then, the director nodded toward the back wall of the room.

 

“Sheriff Bishop, would you like to share a word?”

 

Bolivar Bishop, who’d been sheriff for xx years, unfolded his arms.  “I want to thank everyone who has worked to get us ready for this. You’ve all heard how we’ve best prepared for this. Our department will help keep the roads and your homes safe. There won’t be any Katrina-like looting here.”

 

Sheriff Bishop hesitated before finishing, “Just remember, we’ll get through this together.”

 

The room was quiet.

That was it.

Our sheriff had spoken, and we knew what he had said was true.

 

Because he was my sheriff, and I believed him.

 

I’ve studied leaders and leadership for my entire life.  

 

Bolivar Bishop is still the best example of “The Quiet Leader” I’ve known.

 

He was quiet and soft-spoken, but when he spoke, people listened. 

 

That’s the mark of a leader. They’ve earned the respect of those in the room, and their words matter.

 

Sheriff Bishop was a man of stability and calmness. It would be a mistake to view this quietness as weakness. He had a steely reserve and knew who he was and the position he held. He seemed comfortable in his own skin.

 

In Louisiana, the elected Parish Sheriff has always been one of the most powerful officials in a Parish. This is still true today, although less so than in the Long years when a sheriff could control most aspects of a parish.

 

A local sheriff has outsized authority.

 

In our illustrious state, we’ve had Louisiana sheriffs of every size, shape, and personality, most of whom were good and others not.

 

I’ve studied leadership all of my life. It’s fascinating to examine effective, long-term leaders and dissect their success. 

Bolivar Bishop had been a banker when he was elected sheriff in 1971. He served nine terms, usually with no opposition.

 I was always intrigued by Sheriff Bishop’s leadership style. He preferred to be in the background. He surrounded himself with able deputies and administrators and then got out of their way and allowed them to do their jobs. As I thought about my sheriff, I was reminded that a leader doesn’t need to be loud or aggressive.

 

Unassuming and reserved, he still gave off an aura of power and control.

Like Sheriff Gary Cooper in “High Noon,” he was a man of few words.

He didn’t have to flaunt his power. He was comfortable with it and used his position to improve our parish.

He was the epitome of the Quiet Leader.

He was my sheriff.

And I guess he always will be.

 

Postscript

A final story on that memorable Friday meeting before Hurricane Rita’s arrival: It happened on the most eventful day in Beauregard Parish’s history—the day Hurricane Rita roared ashore—Friday, September 23, 2005.

As I left the meeting, I saw that Sheriff Bishop was wearing a sidearm.

I’d never seen him with a gun in all my years of knowing him. 

However, I saw he was wearing a sidearm. I told the man sitting by me, “I’ve never seen the Sheriff with a gun.”

He shook his head. “Neither have I. This is serious.”

When the meeting ended, I walked by the sheriff, and two of his grandchildren came in through the back entrance. I heard one whisper excitedly, “Look. Papaw’s got on a gun.”

 They were just as surprised as we were.

 Yes, he was my sheriff.

I only saw him wear a gun once.

However, I had great confidence in his leadership for the over 13,000 days he was sheriff of my home parish of Beauregard.

 

He was my sheriff.

And always will be.

Learn more at our writing, books, and social media platforms at www.creekbank.net

 

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