The quiet strength of a mentor leader


Hardin

This is part-three of a series about Bill, who enrolled in hospice services with end-stage colon cancer when he was 89 years old. Bill was born and raised in “The Bottoms” of Lucasville. He was the superintendent over the electrical and communications departments of the New Boston steel mill. Bill cultivated and maintained a childlike sense of wonder. He saw God’s fingerprints on all of creation. He was just as fascinated and familiar with the word of God as he was with the laws of physics, for he reckoned them as emanating from the same “head engineer.”

Bill reflected, “I supervised 200 roughneck steel workers. They were tough men, and you had to earn their respect. I knew what I could say and what I couldn’t say. If you said the wrong thing, you could lose your job. When you are sitting in a room full of other superintendents and they ask you what you think, you need to be able to tell them how you came up with your conclusions. I recall one time when we were having problems with the rollers and I offered to redesign and rebuild the system. I told them, ‘It might not look like the one from the factory, but it doesn’t have to look like a hammer to drive a nail with it.’ The superintendent from that department told me, ‘We don’t need any of your pissy-ass ideas.’ Later he found out that my ideas worked. He never did admit that I was right, but that’s okay.”

I asked Bill, “Did you ever have to yell or raise your voice?” Bill responded, “No. I told the men, ‘There are only two ways for me to get a good day’s work out of you. Either you have to love me or be afraid of me.’ Not one of the 200 men I supervised was afraid of me. I loved every one of them; they used to call me ‘Brother Bill’.”

Bill’s leadership style parallels that of Tony Dungy, the former head coach of the 2007 Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. In his book “Quiet Strength” (2007), Dungy wrote about conversations he had with his then-Tampa Bay Buccaneer team (1996): “We gathered for a postgame prayer. We always prayed — both before and after the game. We would thank God, both as gracious losers and as grateful winners. We began another slide as we dropped three more games in a row. The plan was slowly working: Do what we do, whatever it takes, no excuses, no explanations. I pointed to the evidence and made sure the team knew that we had improved, but I also let them know I expected more from them. I said I would continue to treat them as adults — the way I would want to be treated – but I reminded them that there was an alternative.”

He told his players, “A lot of people say I’ve got to make you afraid – afraid of being cut, afraid of me. I don’t believe that’s true. I have always believed that if you tell people what needs to be done, they will do it – if they believe you and your motives for telling them.”

He explained, “I knew these guys would see through manipulation, but would respond to motivation. I also told the team that, despite my soft-spoken approach, I would hold each of them accountable.”

Following are some words of wisdom from chapter 15 of the Book of Proverbs that remind me of Bill and Tony Dungy’s leadership styles: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness. A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention. The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility.”

Both Bill and Dungy were humble men who won the respect of those they led and served. But what about us? We all lead at one time or another, in one role or another. When we decide and define what kind of a leader we want to be, we’ll know what we need to do.

Vertically speaking, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for a I am gentle and lowly in heart.” (Matthew 11:29) But let’s not make the mistake of interpreting His gentleness and soft-spoken approach for leniency. He still holds each one of us accountable.

“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at hardinl@somc.org. You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.