Leadership: A Caring Community

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1941 was a momentous year for my parents. My father graduated from the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia and was ordained a Lutheran pastor My parents got married. They moved to rural upstate New York for their first parish.

My father threw himself into the work of being a pastor. He called on all the people in the church and many in the community who weren’t members. He conducted marriages and funerals, prayed with people when they were distressed, and joined the volunteer fire department. Along the way, he learned to be the spiritual leader of the community.

It wasn’t very different from what you and I experience as leaders in business. We throw ourselves into the work. We learn how to lead and how to care for our people. The learning is the same even though the circumstances are very different.

My father’s salary was $1,300 a year. The actual payment in dollars came at harvest time if the harvest was good. But no matter how much money was available, my parents never went hungry.

The farmers took my father hunting to help put food on the table. My father didn’t own a shotgun, had never fired one, and had never hunted for anything other than a good book to read.

The farmers knew that. My mother said the shotgun they gave him had no shells in it. Dad and the farmers would go tramping across the countryside Dad carried his shotgun with no shells in it. When the dogs flushed some birds, several shots would ring out, then someone would shout, “Nice shot, pastor!” My father, who had shot nothing, would find some birds stuffed into his game bag.

At the end of the day, as they walked back toward town, one farmer would take that bag so his wife could clean and dress the birds. He knew my mother’s life experience did not include cooking and did not include cleaning and dressing game birds.

Later, the farmer’s wife would come by the parsonage. In the beginning, she brought an entire meal prepared with the birds. Later, the farmer’s wife would say to my mother, “Natalie, I’ve got some time on my hands, why don’t I help you prepare these birds?”

“Preparing” was actually teaching. The farmers and their wives and the other people in the community helped my parents adjust to a situation very different from the worlds where they had each grown up. They helped my father learn to do his work and lead well.

It was the same for me. The people around me, who worked “for” me helped me learn to lead. They made suggestions. They caught my mistakes before they could do damage. They pushed me and they covered for me. I bet it was the same for you.

After I had learned something of the craft of leadership, the caring continued. We all helped each other through tough times and personal crises. We formed a caring community.

It took me decades to understand how this works. If you do your job and help the team and the team members succeed, they will help you succeed. If you help them and care for them, they will help you and care for you.

In a world where no one can succeed without help that’s an important thing to know.

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