The finest kind of "connectivity"

Posted by jlubans on November 14, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

The Internet can open doors, connecting each of us with people whom otherwise might remain strangers. One such connection happened to me. Below is the story and a courageous example of servant leadership. (LaVerne gave me permission to reproduce his story on this blog.)

Servant Leader
by LaVerne Thornton

A couple of months ago, out of curiosity I put my book title, “Walk in ‘e Moon”, in Google, I scrolled through all the normal stuff, my web site,, etc. About to quit scrolling, I suddenly saw a posting on a blog by John Lubans. The posting was about my book and Virlie’s restaurant in Pittsboro, NC. ….

I was excited to see that someone thought enough of my book to blog about it. I read everything on John’s blog at: I located his email address and immediately sent him an email. Within a few hours John replied to my email. I learned that he was, at the time, teaching at the University of Latvia but his permanent home is in Durham, NC.

I grew up in a small world that figuratively speaking was surounded by a high wall. I learned early that if I saw light from the outside world peeking through that wall, to squeeze through it and explore a wider world. I saw with John’s first email, light peeking through that wall.

John and I developed an email friendship that led to a plan to have lunch at Virlie’s when he returned to Durham. On September 20th 2011 John and I had that delightful lunch at Virlie’s.
One result of our email friendship was to learn that we both were interested in management and leadership. In fact John is a leadership consultant and has published a book titled, “Leading From the Middle”. John asked in one of his emails if I had written anything that would demonstrate my leadership style. I emailed a few stories that demonstrated my leadership style. John identified me as a, “Servant leader”.

I, somehow through my long management career and exposure to numerous management studies, had missed the term, “Servant Leader”. I went to Google and found this description:
Servant leadership is a very popular leadership model. It was developed by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. The servant leader serves the people he/she leads, which implies that employees are an end in themselves rather than a means to an organizational purpose or bottom line. Servant leadership is meant to replace command and control models of leadership, to be more focused on the needs of others.
That description fit me as comfortably as that Scottish tweed jacket that I have had for twenty four years. Immediately I recalled how and when I had discovered this leadership method as my natural style.
In 1968 I was made plant manager of a plant that manufactured vitrified clay sanitary sewer pipe. I was a tender thirty one years old at the time. We had about three hundred and fifty employees. My first act was to build a new parking lot that provided a dignified place for the employees to park their cars. This simple act was so well received that I got many a thank you.
One day I was walking through the plant and an employee, Donald Yow, asked me if I could give him some advice on a problem that he had. I responded positively and he described his problem. He and his wife had a few months earlier purchased a new double wide mobile home. One day his wife had dressed for work and was wearing high heeled shoes. She stepped into the bathroom for a final mirror check and one of her heels went right through the vinyl floor. Donald, upon examining the floor, found that the manufacturer had laid the vinyl floor covering over a hole about three inches in diameter. Donald told me that he had tried in vain to get the company to repair the floor. All he had received was promises. I asked Donald to bring me all pertinent information and that I would call the company. The next day Donald brought me a folder with a complete description of the problem and a record of all phone calls he had made in an attempt to get the problem solved.
I went back to my office and called the company and got to the right person. I explained who I was and the reason I was calling. The man told me that they were going to fix the problem. I replied, Yes you are and you are going to fix it by Friday of this week. He responded in an arrogant tone. I said if you don’t have the repairs done by Friday a law suit will be filed on Monday morning. I will use the full force of our good officeses to assist in the suit.
The repairs were made on Thursday.
The word got around the plant. I knew then that I had turned my natural feelings into and effective leadership style which was against management training during that era.
I assisted employees with many other things like, assisting with applying for a home mortgage, working with contractors and insurance companies if an employee had a fire, and any number of personal problems. I could feel the respect growing as employee morale and performance, which had been a problem, improved dramatically. The, “Bottom line”, as business men like to say, also improved.
I related the mobile home story to my boss, Art Jabbusch, who was plant manager ahead of me. His reaction was that I was headed for problems someday if I continue to manage that way. He was an ex-Marine and had served in many bloody battles in the South Pacific during World War Two. He brought to the job his way of shouting, “Take that hill”, command and control leadership.
Dear Art, I am still waiting for those problems you warned me about.

One of my favourite church life periods was when our first woman minister, Susan Cafferty, having learned of my background, ask me to serve as a sort of ombudsman for our church.
I served as Pastor Parish Relationship chairman through Susan’s eleven year tenure with Goldston United Methodist Church.
As I reflect back on how, “Servant leader,” applies so comfortably to me, I have an explanation. I grew up in a poor isolated area of Virginia called the Bend. I describe the Bend in my book, “Walk in ‘e Moon”. I grew up in a Christian home where my parents and Granny epitomised the expression, “Don’t just talk the Christian talk but walk the Christian walk”.
The centre of our social world was a small country Methodist church built of stone from my families ancestral land. Our congregation gathered strength and inspiration from each other. Helping each other in their time of need was a shared philosophy. You helped someone simply because they were another human being in need.
No college course and no book can teach you that. Life’s most notable lessons are often learned from experience.