THEY SAID IT, I LEARNED FROM IT
Do you have time for one more?
You’ve likely heard a lot about servant-leadership. The theory seems simple enough. In practice, it requires a rare combination of devotion to people and commitment to the basics. Seeing servant-leadership in practice is an experience to be treasured.
There’s been a lot of talk about servant-leadership in management circles and classrooms for the last few decades.
Some of the experts say it starts with your customers. Do good work for them and let that work overflow into society. Others profess that servant-leaders turn the traditional management model upside down. Employees are placed first in this model. Develop them. Nurture them into higher levels of performance. In almost all theories, the leader exists to serve the people instead of the people existing to serve the leader.
According to many of the founders of the United States, servant leadership was the purpose of electing government officials. The elected leaders would have a mission to serve the electorate. Well, so much for that theory.
Unfortunately, the execution of servant-leadership reminds me of the NFL and way too many contemporary businesses. Watching today’s NFL is a lesson in theory, just as servant-leadership remains a theory in most organizations. Never before have offensive and defensive coordinators spent so much time scheming and designing. Watching some of the play designs is masters-level stuff.
Sadly, however, no one seems to know how to block and tackle. Pre-snap penalties are pervasive. Defenses regularly get flagged for having 12 men on the field. What in the world is going on? We have become trained to watch the beauty of intricate design without the fundamentals of basic execution.
And so it is with leadership and management theories — lots of strategy and design without the simple stuff of treating people like humans. Everyone wants to jump to the 400-level courses. Perhaps we should spend more time learning to block and tackle.
Like everything else, the influence and example of one good servant-leader far surpasses a case study discussion.
Pat Crompton is such a leader. His devotion to people compels his actions. He’s a young master in the art of servant-leadership. Several years ago, he showed me that classroom theory pales compared to time in the field.
His repeated inquiry — “Do you have time for one more?” — is a question I’ll not soon forget.
Pat was responsible for a group of 800 or so people in Baltimore. Occasionally, I would join Pat as he visited people throughout the city. His mission was to uplift and provide relief. The stopovers he organized were nothing short of inspirational. In theory, he reported to me. In practice, I was learning from him.
One of the first things I would notice as we traveled together is that people knew him no matter where we went. He loved them and they naturally loved him back. You can imagine the needs in Baltimore: mothers worried about their children, fathers struggling to pay the electric bill, youngsters looking for a mentor, and the elderly worried about their safety.
Pat met all of these needs head-on. What he may have lacked in experience he made up for with passion. Sometimes he showed unfailing compassion. At other times, his suggestions were direct challenges. People half his age and three times his age all trusted his wisdom. I never noticed any second-guessing.
When you’re viewed as a servant, people naturally follow.
As the scheduled visits for the day would come to a close, Pat would look at me, almost pleadingly, and ask,
“Do you have time for one more?”
I learned that it’s nearly impossible to say no to servant-leaders.
My afternoons with Pat would never end with just one more. One led to two which led to three. Pat always seemed to have time for one more. It didn’t matter where in the city the need arose. He had time…and he had no fear.
My recollection of the details of Pat’s life isn’t perfect. Somehow, he went from high school in the north woods town of Bemidji, Minnesota, and wound up as an adult in Baltimore, Maryland. Perhaps it was in Bemidji where Pat learned that there is always time for one more.
Pat demonstrated that servant-leaders are known and respected by the people whom they lead (or serve). They understand needs and how to meet them. They face challenges directly. They are fearless and fearlessly devoted.
Folklore has it that Bemidji is the birthplace of the legendary Paul Bunyan. You likely know of the tall tales of Bunyan’s superhuman feats and power. The guy could flat out work, but was he real?
Scholars will continue to debate both the authenticity of Paul Bunyan and the management theories of servant-leadership. Meanwhile, I’ll attest to the lessons of servant-leadership taught by Pat Crompton in the wonderful city of Baltimore. His work was superhuman, and it was real.
If we ever get fearless enough to employ servant-leadership as a style in our lives, we should make sure we’re willing to commit the “time for one more”. The classroom doesn’t explain the costs of that time.
Nonetheless, without that commitment, we may find ourselves in the business of running complicated plays without being able to execute the basic fundamentals of blocking and tackling.
Written by Craig Halsey
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