Take A Seat, Suspend Your Filter, And Recapture This Simple Lesson In Leadership And CommunityShare
Sometimes the most important lessons in strong leadership and community are simplest - and the easiest to miss.
If you’re of a certain age or even just a cable TV watcher, you’ve likely seen the Andy Griffith Show. On the surface the show was simple. But often it’s the deceivingly simple that teaches us the most. In the midst of a world characterized by frenetic change, a too quick inclination to mirror rather than be original, and a growing void of conscious leadership, what just might help us right our ship is a brief walk through that simple world.
The show was about the fictional small town of Mayberry, North Carolina and the very basic but important goings-on of its small citizenry. The people were simple. Their problems seem simple. On occasion their thoughts stand out as simple too. Even their language was simple – as just one example, Andy was probably best known for effusing in that slow Southern drawl of his, “Well I’ll be” each time life surprised him or took a wonderful turn.
The show’s set-up is easy, and it’s just as easy to conclude there’s little more to it. A closer look reveals that the extreme simplicity was precisely the point, in other words to not have the town, its people, its problems, the dialog, or even the plot lines run away with our attention while the real story unfolded. The real story was a story of life lessons and a story of basic truths and what matters most among all people, no matter how big or little their town, their stature, their problems, or their lives, and no matter what they dream of doing. Awareness. Awareness of those truths and lessons – that’s really what the show was all about.
Seen today, the show stands apart even more. Try to think of a current show – or for that matter, any workspace, organization, or agenda that offers so few distractions or sufficient space to make larger, more important observations or to steep and distill greater lessons.
The subtleties to the show extended beyond its setting to its lead, Andy Taylor, Mayberry’s sheriff, played by, as the show’s name implies, Andy Griffith. The role of sheriff in a small town gave Andy a nice, natural and obvious opportunity to play the role of lesson teacher, arbitrator, and balancing force. Surrounded by such simple folk and simplistic issues, it would be easy to take that role and make the character and man bigger than he really was. But that wasn’t the intent. The message delivered through Sherriff Taylor about leadership was something different. Being sheriff isn’t what made Andy Taylor so respected. It wasn’t what made Mayberry work either. It was the person of Andy.
After watching episodes of the show, you tend not to recall Andy as a screw-up, a guy capable of mistakes, or a guy even ever in error. Many of the plot lines revolve around Andy as hero in one form or another. We like heroes, and villains, and big problems to solve. But with remarkable consistency the show’s creators made a point of showing that Andy had weaknesses, that he was human. And it seems they did so to transparently show you how he chose to act when he was wrong or at fault. When he did play small town hero, he was gracious not audacious, humble not haughty, someone with a sense that today’s hero might need a hero of his own tomorrow, and a keen knowledge that every one of inevitably walks in both set of shoes.
Mayberry, Sherriff Taylor – it’s remarkable how easy it is to give credit to circumstances, titles, single ideas, and the like, or to attribute blame for our troubles to the same. It’s interesting too how such things so quickly and blindingly becomes our focus – the focus of our explanations, our aspirations, even our appreciations. It’s mind-blowing see just how easily we forgot this simple truth: that in the end it all of it, what makes a community work, what lifts an idea off the ground, what inspires a movement to rise, comes down to people – who they are, what they choose to stand for, and how they stand up and take action when confronted with the reality of having to live with, work with, deal with, and commune with other people.
In the end, what worked for Andy (and for the show) was that he never lost sight of himself, who he was. He knew it to his core. He didn’t have to sit around questioning it or reconnecting with who he was, he simply needed to be himself in each and every moment. In the final tally, Andy wasn’t the sheriff, or the smartest guy in town, or a power broker (even though one could conclude he was all of these). He wasn’t the big fish in this tiny little pond in any way (even if he was). Title, circumstances, social status, and environment – none of this bought Andy anything lasting or anything he wielded over Mayberry, the Andy Griffith Show, or anything else.
Simply put, he was…
- A man with pride in his chosen work and world
- Someone with a sense of humor and a smile, neither of which were ever gained at someone else’s expense
- Honest to the core – always, even when he screwed up
- Fair-minded and fair-handed, including with himself
- And aware of two things most of us are not: what was right in front and what was going on in the larger picture around him, both at the same time.
He was, in a matter of speaking, fully conscious of who he was.
Perhaps that’s why he developed that signature line as his shorthand for any moment when being who he was help all of us see more clearly…
“Well I’ll be…” who I am.
Larry Robertson is the author of two award-winning books: ‘The Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity’ and ‘A Deliberate Pause: Entrepreneurship and its Moment in Human Progress’. He’s the founder of two ventures, one for-profit and one non, and a highly respected thought leader in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship, advising individuals and organizations across a broad spectrum. Larry is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and a former Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.