Monday, February 22, 2021

1987 - Downtown Brown and Servant Leadership


Robert K. Greeleaf pictured (no Sam Brown)

(Fifty Nifty years in the United States Series)

Sam Brown; A true servant leader and one of the funniest people I have ever known. “Downtown Brown” was an amazing Y guy.

Along with my previous BLOG subject, Sam and Wally Wirick where the ones that introduced me to the concept of servant leadership. They had learned or adapted the leadership style from Rich Collato (another Y guy).

Essentially it was in how you support your staff to be successful so we were all successful. And Sam had a great humor to him as well. He was the kind of leader that had a golf club in his office and putting cup and would meet with you while he practiced his putt.

It was also Sam who with another mentor (Wally) who convinced me to spend a cold winter on a Christmas tree lot while they raised money for my first full time position at the Y.

The tree lot was a lesson in so many ways; wind storms, rain storms, trains at 2 am, pumpkin lot, Doo Dah parade parking and lessons in finance.

I gained and learned so much on how to throw out old ideas and the “Do it, try it, fix it” method of running a non-profit organization. Another amazing lesson in servant leadership.

And the real lesson I gained from Sam Brown was that of applying humbleness to all that he did. Those who knew Sam knew he was funny and even brash. So the idea that I would learn humility may seem to be a stretch.

It was at the end of his time with that YMCA that I truly gained from how Sam led. He decided that it was more important to have and support front line staff and program folks. His position was the first to sacrifice and I was stunned by that. I had only seen top down leaders in major organizations.

Sam was all about supporting those who he led.

Style of truck I was driving that day.

One more quick story. We were driving in a big stake bed truck and had just picked up a load of trees from Mr. Snowman; well I was driving and Sam was the passenger. We were headed down Colorado Boulevard somewhere near Glendale (California) in a 45 mph zone. As we approached a green light, it began to flash and was starting to turn yellow.

Sam in his excitable voice style began to say, “Al, yellow LIGHT!” His voice clearly getting louder and more exaggerated as I accelerated to get through the light. I continued on knowing that that was a lot of truck to stop in a very short distance and I did not want Christmas trees in our laps let alone all over Colorado Blvd.

Sam, clutching at his heart and perhaps expressing an expletive or two, “what the heck are you doing driving like that?” I quietly explained that I had had a Youth bus course to drive the big 72 passenger school bus. I remember the instructor telling us that if you are going through a light and it turns yellow, it is better to accelerate into it instead of having all your passengers come flying to the front.

Sam began to repeat that little bit and for the next 6 months, that is all I heard from him on every occasion or meeting. “Well Al, I don’t know if I would take on that guest group director, but you know, I never drove a bus through a yellow light in attempt to give me a heart attack.”

Whatever the issue, Sam would bring it back to that moment when he said I “tried to kill him.” 

Yellow Light in the United States means caution. (Red = Stop & Green = Go)

I have learned that Sam was gauging a way to coach me as a leader. He knew what my green light was and he saw that I would risk a yellow to get through the moment. It's is easy to move through things when it is clearly green. It's a gamble to proceed through the yellow. I have always invested my time in figuring out that for the folks I have had the pleasure to work with as emerging leaders through the camp experience. 

It was this humor and his relentless humility about everything that I gained the most from Sam Brown. I am grateful in my 50 plus years here in these Untied States, to have had such a great role model and gaining from his humorous humility.

It is clear to me that Sam always had others first in his work to serve. He was never motivated to be anything else and I gained a great deal from his "Servant Leadership."

I think of Sam every time the light turns yellow and it gives me great pause.

Post Script - I want to take a moment and invite those who are reading this to consider a comment. Let me know where you are in the world and your thoughts on leadership as well. I also invite you to hit the "FOLLOW" button so you will get the latest story reminder. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

1986 - Wally Vision (and Leadership)


Wally Wirick in recent years - a vision for all seasons.

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

I know it is cheap and shameful to take advantage of a current trend or try to associate with a fan favorite to hopelessly make a connection. So, call me cheap, shameless and know that I am a fan of the current show and of my friend and mentor, Wally Wirick. 

Yeah, I worked for him back in 1983 when he took over at the Temple City YMCA in California. He found myself, and Julie Tindall, Bill Gagliardi, my sister, Lisa, Tony, Dave, Sandy and all the rest leading a small YMCA.

The Temple City YMCA was a two bedroom house with a backyard pool and programs that were vested throughout the community. I know I was the liaison for nearly 600 families in the culturally inappropriate Indian Guides and Maidens program. (The program was later re-branded Adventure Guides) A parent child program that fostered interactions between dads and sons, moms and daughters, dads and daughters as well as a quasi big brother mentor program.

Wally was the first professional YMCA career person that I really worked with. In fact on on annual basis to this day, I call him up and thank him for the opportunity to follow in his youth development and leadership footsteps.

I gained so much from that Temple City experience. When Wally found us, he helped unleash our growth and in less than a year, we expanded an additional 11 after school site programs; had a summer day camp of nearly 400 youth (the previous year we had 111); and taught nearly 600 youth to swim in a backyard learn to swim program over a three month period.

Wally who has always been genuinely happy - I have seen him serious as well but always a happy person who enjoys whatever life is giving him - he taught me to look at things in different ways. Inspired and visionary. 

Vision is a gift he has in everything. He looks at a pile of old broken pipes and sees a backyard water fall and fountain. He sketches out a design of a bed bunk system to fit inside a tee pee tent so every child is with in the bed and bunk rail regulations of the health department and can sit and listen to a leader tell a story at the center of the tee pee and have a clear unobstructed view. He looks at a bunch of teenagers and determines they have the capacity to quadruple a program.

V = (4 ⁄ 3) π r is the formula for the volume of a sphere. Wally looks at life like that - always from different parts of the sphere- using a baseball in the analogy.

Pictured - A baseball I've had since 1988 - V = (4 ⁄ 3) π r3

This method of determining how to view the world, challenges, different aspects of work is a great skill to hone. In 2004, as I took over a YMCA camp, I had attended a camping conference in Florida at Walt Disney World.

The camp, was situated on two sides of a road and campers and staff had to cross it several times a day to get to different activity areas. All the cabins, dining hall and most of the traditional camp activities were on one side of the road. The equestrian center, skate park, paintball, ATV, archery and a couple of other areas where on the opposite side. It was a time consuming and staff time consuming and intensive draw on each day. Folks were crossing the road some 20 times a day with staff often trying to shuttle folks from one place to the next because someone forgot where they were going.

As mentioned, I was at Disney World for this conference and we had some time off to ago to the different parks. I made my way to the shuttle system to get to Disney's Animal Kingdom. In less the 3 minutes the shuttle showed up and from the line queue you could choose what shuttle to ride to what area you wanted. I hoped on the bus to Animal Kingdom. The 10 minute ride deposited me at that gate.

It occurred to me as I rode the system, that they had the same challenge in getting folks from one hub stop to multiple choices and do so in a timely and efficient manner. I thought of that baseball. And I ended up riding around the Disney World shuttle system for over 2 hours that day, watching the different areas admiring the  efficiency and timeliness.

That summer at camp, we employed a people trolley system at the hub of camp that allowed participants to hop on the leader shuttle to get them to their destination. It was quick and efficient and we ended up have just 8 road crossings a day without incident in getting campers to their chosen activity areas.

As I've gotten older I've tried to look at things like that more and more with genuine gratitude - I can't think of a single conversation I've had with Wally since we met in 1983 that I have walked away from without a lesson - I try to be that for others as well.

To paraphrase that television couple, working with Wally has made for an unusual pairing and I don't think it was ever a question.

Post Script - I want to take a moment and invite those who are reading this to consider a comment. Let me know where you are in the world and your thoughts on leadership as well. I also invite you to hit the "FOLLOW" button so you will get the latest story reminder. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

1985 - Leadership Lessons from the "Real Thing"


Ducking the wind with Ann (L) and Bill (R) on a faithful road trip

(Fifty Nifty Years In United States Series)

This is the same Bill who was part of my early Y story in Temple City. He is a few years older and always made sure that I knew that. He was in the seminary when we met and then decided that he was to be a journalist and a Y director and then ultimately a chiropractor.

The influence he had on my story was in his work as a journalist. In late 1983, I had gone back to see an former high school teacher (Shirley Rosencrantz from a previous story) and changed my major in college. In 1984 Bill graduated and went to work for a small town newspaper in Tremonton Utah (forever known among my friends as Tree-stump Utah).

Bill loved to drive his Toyota pick up and would on occasion just go off on a half day road trip around Southern California. While we lived in Utah, we once had a four road trip (somewhere in Idaho) just to find a McDonald's for fries and a Coke.

In the Spring of 1985, Coca Cola had launched itself in an endeavor further known as "New Coke." Their rival Pepsi had had a national challenge taste test and determined that most folks preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi. Coca Cola re-engineered their formula and came up with that sweeter taste. There was a huge backlash and by July of that summer, Coca Cola had already announced the return to their original formula and back to the "Real thing" as the marketing campaign extolled.

In 1985, I had already visited Bill and ended up with internship for Cal Poly Pomona, CA (my college) at his newspaper. He was the editor and chief writer and chief photographer and lay out artist and typographer. I spent the summer in Utah (and my 21st birthday where the entire state celebrated on that Sunday, July 24 – yet another story).

I learned a great deal from Bill about energy and where you direct it. He has always been an inspiration on faith. As mentioned. Bill was in seminary when I met him while we worked at the Y. We had some of the best discussions on faith and mission.

As a young person, his influence on how I looked at faith and religion made an impact that has lasted to this day. He was my first roommate in college when I moved to Treestump for the summer to work under his guidance.

Bill taught me how to work in a dark room developing photos. He taught me about writing and focus on a story. And it was on a road trip where we discussed God and faith and doubt. Bill said, “If you have room enough to doubt, you have room enough for faith.”  

Faith has many aspects and that summer helped me realize that I may not be up to a new taste in my fortunes. Like Coke, I had my original formula in life to serve in youth development through the camp experience. I even had a short Scout camp experience that summer as well with a Troop in the mountains above Logan, UT.

I learned from that experience that your "why" in life can be derailed or you can choose a different formula and ultimately, you will have to choose the real thing that inspires your service.

I am in debt for all the lessons and the one about faith has been the most enduring. To this day, I check in with Bill several times a year. Our lives have gone in different directions and I am grateful for having him on these 50 plus year journey as I have been in these United States.

Post Script - My invitation goes out to you who are reading this. Please leave a comment and let me know where you are in the world. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my take on leadership as well. Please consider "Following" this by clicking on the "FOLLOW" button to get reminders about the next leadership story.  

Monday, February 1, 2021

1984 - Illusions of Connection - Jonathan Livingston Ferreira


Jonathan Livingston Seagull 

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

Richard Bach – yeah, him. The guy who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions and The Bridge Across Forever as well as a few other great books.

This was the year his book, “One” came out and he was signing books at Vroman’s in Pasadena, California. Of course I went and I have at least two or three of his books signed that evening.

That's when the most fascinating thing happened. I walked out of Vromans (back door going up to the parking lot) and there he was standing.

So I stood as well. It seemed like five minutes went by with not a word. Then he offered up that it was a beautiful site to see as the sun went down. If you have stood at the back entrance of Vromans, it faces the parking lot and at that time faced the back of some homes and other buildings. But the sun had just gone down and perhaps what I heard was “The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.”

And a conversation began. We talked for quite some time about so many things including writing and relationships.

At the end we even exchanged contact information and for a while we corresponded a bit infrequently and always me giving updates on what I was writing.

He was very generous with his time. It all led to eventual email exchange and then like any brief relationships, it just stopped. I reached out one other time recently and got a brief note back again encouraging me to keep to my lane.

Richard Bach (circa 1980s)

I am so grateful for those few moments and the lesson that I still “enjoy” to this day. Sometimes it feels like an illusion that it even happened. I think back on so many summers, late nights, winter weekends in the work I have been blessed to do. All the souls that have touched my life and in turn may have received something as well.

That's my lesson, that two souls can share a few moments and have such a tremendous, affirming, and transformational impact on each of us. It is in John Maxwell's Law of Connection, "the heart comes first. You must connect on an emotional level." 

That's how Richard made me feel that day. I am ever so grateful for his part and influence on my journey.

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