Servant Leadership

Leadership is a privilege. I think our society by and large has forgotten that. Too many of the leaders I’ve encountered in my adult life treat leadership as a right, or even an entitlement, but to be entrusted with the health and welfare of others should actually be viewed and approached as a privilege and an act of service. Whether we’re parenting, governing, soldiering, doctoring, or running a business, we should view our position with humility and respect for those we lead. We should always consider our actions in light of their benefit, rather than ours. Leadership means to serve others, not to force others to serve us. If we only consider what we, as an individual, want, or what we personally stand to gain, our organization is doomed to fail, or at least, flounder.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted as saying, “We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice, not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.” This is the heart of the matter. How can anyone hope to be an effective leader if their main concern and motivation is their own agenda and self-aggrandizement? They can’t, unless their personal objective is despotism and dictatorship, then self-centric leadership is effective, to the detriment of those being led.

Several recent events prompted these thoughts. Foremost are the impending presidential election, the COVID-19 upheaval, the presidential impeachment proceedings a couple of months ago, and the sickening behavior of many of our elected officials. Too many congressmen and senators have made a career out of their positions and forgotten just what they were elected to do. The word “representative” seems to be used euphemistically rather than literally. Most of the longest-sitting have lost all touch with their constituents and all sight of the purpose of their office. They exist solely to debauch the Constitution, make money at the expense of their people, and besmirch the integrity of the offices they hold.

In considering my colleagues in the Fourth Estate, by giving up any concept of ethical responsibility and unbiased reporting, they, in consequence, lost the greatest privilege they ever had – leadership. The reporters and journalists of this nation were once relied upon to keep the government in check by truthfully and accurately reporting both sides of every event and political dispute and shedding light on the deeds done in the dark. Do “Watergate” or the names, “Woodward and Bernstein,” ring any bells? Walter Cronkite, known as “the most trusted man in America,” enjoyed a level of power few men outside of government ever know, and he wielded it with humility and morality. I wrote a paper on him for my journalism ethics class in college. (Yes, that was an actual class, and no, it was not an elective.) Trust me, Cronkite’s doing cheetah flips in his grave right now, and my professor’s head has probably exploded. Once upon a time, it didn’t matter which newscast you watched. They all told the same stories. Most people chose based on the anchor they preferred. I remember seeing a lot of Dan Rather as a kid. (“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?”) Today, there’s a network for every viewpoint, political preference, and ideology.

In 1789, Thomas Jefferson asserted, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

And therein lies the rub. We, the people, are supposed to be the leaders of this country. Our government was established of the people, for the people and by the people. Our elected representatives serve at our will, and yet we set them no boundaries. We’ve grown complacent, content to give the horse its head and allow it to wander where it will. We’re becoming an oligarchy rather than a democratic republic. In consequence, we’re losing our civil liberties, handing control of our economy over to foreign countries, and allowing ourselves to be divided by political ideologies and infected by socialism. For the first time in my life, I’m disappointed in my country.


It’s the End of the World…Again

You all think this is about the pandemic, right? Well, maybe it sort of is, but not directly. I’ll get to that later. It’s about the end of an era, the old adage, “Out with the old and in with the new.” How many times in the last 100 years have we been told, and had to accept, that life would never be the same? I’m well aware that the one constant in life is change, but wars, pandemics, terrorist attacks, space travel, and technological advances have made the changes come so rapidly, it seems we’ve barely had time to adjust to one new reality before another follows close on its heels.

Two weeks ago, our post newspaper arrived in the mail, as it had every Friday, and under the banner was a valediction. As I read it, my eyes welled up with tears. Maybe it’s the stress from the COVID crisis, maybe it’s cabin fever, or maybe I’m just sentimental, but seeing that farewell broke my heart. The newspaper started in 1899. It had different names and different owners over the decades, but it faithfully covered the news on this post. It covered another famous pandemic, two world wars, and myriads of deployments, and its last message was touching and poignant.

In reading that missive, I realized that I, like the newspaper, am an anachronism. Like all the Generation X’ers, or the “in-between” generation as I call us, I grew up learning the old ways of living and doing things from my parents and grandparents, the simpler, slower ways. The first telephone I used was a rotary, attached the wall in our kitchen, and now, I hold one in my hand that has more computing power than the ones used to put the first man in space. We had four channels on the TV, and we sometimes had to go out and turn the antennae to tune in the reception. We had 8-track players in our vehicles, and a record player in the living room. My grandmothers quilted, put out gardens, and canned vegetables. (I wish I’d paid more attention to how they did that.) I learned typing on a typewriter. I remember life before call-waiting, VHS recorders, or cable TV.

Jay and I have maintained an excellent collection of DVD’s, CD’s, and even VHS tapes and cassettes. You can trace the technological advances of our society over the last 20 years just by surveying the entertainment options in our living room. We own two VHS players, a DVD player, and two Xboxes. In addition we have a record player, a pretty decent vinyl selection, plus a stereo with DVD and cassette players, but we also have an Apple Music subscription. We subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime, but if Amazon wants to charge me to watch a movie or Netflix doesn’t have it, there’s a good chance I already own it. Case in point, I wanted to introduce my daughter to Steel Magnolias a couple of  weeks ago. Netflix didn’t have it, and Amazon wanted money. So, we watched it on tape. Ha!

I have a Facebook account, but I don’t need to check my feed umpteen times a day or post every little thing that happens in my life. In fact, I purposely don’t post a lot of things because I don’t feel the need to have my life choices constantly, externally validated. If we suddenly entered a time warp and reverted to the 1980s (Please, Lord!) I’d be just fine. I can even drive a stick shift.

I attended the University of North Carolina and graduated at the turn-of-the-century from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication with a degree in the news-editorial track. The department is now called the “Hussman School of Journalism and Media.” Back in my day, (I’ve always wanted to say that!) we learned to write and edit news articles the same way students 50 years before us had, except we did get to type them up on computers and print them out on ink jet printers. We received our graded papers back with editorial marks written in red, wax pencil.

My first job right out of school was with a small, local weekly, and we did our layouts by hand on big sheets of grid paper tacked to a huge drafting easel in the middle of the newsroom. I was the advertising manager, the only job available at the paper at the time, and my ads went in first, then the news stories were trimmed to fit in the space that was left. I enjoyed being there in the newsroom, bantering with the reporters and discussing current events. Once the editor approved the layout, the huge sheets were picked up by the printer, then returned with the printed papers. We took everything off and reused the grid sheets week-to-week as long as we could to save money. Layouts aren’t done that way anymore. At the last paper I worked for, as a reporter, we submitted our articles to the editor via email. She made her changes, sent them back to make sure we were good with the revisions, then she emailed them on to the graphic designer who did the layout with some fancy computer program. From there, they were emailed to the printer. There was no banter, no camaraderie, no big sheets of grid paper and paste.

Maybe the current health crisis has me waxing nostalgic for the good ole days. I’ve been thinking about the way a lot of things used to be, like when you could actually accompany someone to the gate at the airport, without having a boarding pass or going through a dozen levels of security, and although I know things will get back to normal, I’m afraid it, once again, won’t be the same.