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By Anthony Miller | Mar. 10, 2017

Leading with a Servant’s Heart: How Two Days Transformed My Management Style

Early last year, I was asked if I would like to participate in the trueU Leader in Training class. Always looking to sharpen my skills, I immediately said yes to the opportunity. In learning about trueU, I found out that we would be helping to build a house for a local family in need. To say that I was concerned about this build would be understating it wildly.  Not only did I not know the first thing about construction and home improvement, I had avoided this kind of activity for pretty much my entire life.

At the risk of sounding like some sort of schmaltzy, overly emotional caricature of a human being; I love leadership training and the fires that said training tends to light inside of me. Watching the members of my team grow and achieve the potential that I see in them is what gets me out of bed every morning. Being able to learn new ways to harness this potential energy and shape it in to a kinetic power source is something that I value very much. Knowing that, I was very interested to learn how this home build as part of the trueU Leader In Training (LIT) 10 class was going to help me hone my leadership skills. There are always lessons to be learned.

Up to the weekend prior to our build, I wouldn’t say that I had made a lot of connections with the other leaders in my LIT class. This isn’t a condemnation of how LIT works or of the classes. Rather, I say that to be very transparent about how I tend to approach a “temporary” group of people. Typically, I don’t try to reach out and get to know people if they aren’t going to be in my circle for an extended period of time. Instead, I’d rather focus on the task at hand and absorb as much knowledge as possible. My experience during the build changed how I will approach groups in the future.

From the onset, it was clear to me that this build was going to be something different. The energy was positive {maybe a different word since you use positive in the next sentence too} and without a facade. All of us in the room on orientation night were intent on creating a lasting change with and for the family that we would be serving over the next couple of days. It’s one thing to give money to charity, or help with a toy drive, but it is something else all-together when you are going to put boots on the ground and start swinging hammers. For me, it was a mixture of excitement, nervousness, and a little bit of hesitation, if I am being honest. I don’t know the first thing about home improvement. Need a song written? I am your guy. Need a floor joist fixed? No idea.

Day one of the build was cold. And not in a “I should pack a sweatshirt” cold. No. Day one was “I’m not sure I brought enough clothes to actually be out of doors” cold.  Getting off of the bus at the build location was interesting. It didn’t feel like we had a ton of direction with how to get things started. But as people with good intentions are apt to do, we all kind of found our place in the chaos, and turned it into a semi-organized hurricane of activity. Trash got taken out. Floors were torn up. Sub-flooring was put down and nailed into place. And before any of us had a chance to breathe, it was the end of day one. I couldn’t believe that we were standing in the same house that we had started in that same day. There were walls up and mudded. There were floors nailed down. On some level, I don’t think that I learned one thing about carpentry or how to hang drywall. But I did learn that I can take direction pretty well, and that drywall mud tastes a lot like Neco Wafers. Don’t ask…

If day one was cold, then day two was frigid. And while no one complained, everyone was obviously being affected by the weather. We couldn’t not be. There were school delays and travel advisories because of the arctic temperatures. Yet here we were, amateur builders the lot of us, putting in the work on this house. Day two’s theme was “adapt and overcome” as our night crew hadn’t shown up at all, so we were tasked with more drywall and mudding, and that we did. Somewhere in this flurry of activity, we were fortunate enough to meet the family that would eventually be living in this house on which we were working. This is where I had a very real, very transformative moment, and one that will stay with me forever.

From a very literal, very visceral perspective, this family could have been my family when I was growing up. Our father, and everyone else in my family, worked at the Chrysler plant in New Castle when we were growing up. You don’t have to be a local historian to know that when this factory closed its doors, the entire community was affected in ways that are still being felt today. The population in our county dwindled as families scrambled to find work in other parts of the country. Those of us without enough money to pull up roots and go elsewhere watched as the few jobs available to those remaining folks were snatched up immediately. To make a long, emotional, very personal story very short; if not for the generosity and kindness of others, our entire community could have been living on the streets.  But people came through for one another in ways that don’t even make a lot of sense to me now as an adult. Meals. Bill money. Cars. House payments. I remember very clearly the day that the people of Mount Summit came together and paid off my little brother’s hospital bills. “It takes a village” is so cliché that it almost borders on corny, but it is spot on and perfect. We can be the change that helps someone overcome a moment that seems insurmountable at the time.

The little girls in that family could have been my siblings and myself. The mother, with her strong faith and bond with her own mom, could have been my mom some 25 years ago. We owed it to ourselves to do a great job for this family and to give them a place to create their own memories.

At the end of the build week, I had not only created several connections to the people in my class, but I had developed some real friendships and strong relationships. I had also discovered something else inside of me that yearned to serve others from a volunteering perspective.  Though I had done many fundraisers, organized rallies, and various other bits of charity work, there is nothing quite like getting your hands on a hammer and helping to shape the vision of the future.

So at the end of the day, I would encourage anyone to just get out there and help. Get your hands dirty and pick up a hammer, or mud a wall, or whatever it takes to be submerged in the situation at hand. Be present in your service. Do not be afraid to step into an uncomfortable situation to help out someone else.