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. 

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