Stories, mythical anecdotes and urban legends that involve “janitors,” and their links to leadership … allow me to share three such accounts.
#1 – You’ll remember that in the early 1960’s JFK set in motion a National transformation to put a man on the moon. The endeavor at the time was forecast to cost Billions of dollars. As the story goes JFK was touring the NASA Headquarters and stopped to talk to a man with a mop in his hand. “What do you do?” JFK asked. “I’m helping to put a man on moon!” said the janitor. From this exchange it is purported that JFK saw a dedicated man who knew his part in the organization’s mission and that when people are so engaged it points to a “sharp focus,” and ultimately success! [There is another version of this exchange that goes a bit further into the conversation … the janitor asked JFK, “what are you doing here?” JFK sheepishly grins, noticing that he was inside the ladies room! There’s a variant on this story that goes like this – a congressman undecided on his vote to approve the billion needed to place a man on the moon, a swing vote, made a trip to Houston TX to visit NASA for himself. He’s seen the entire complex and is still undecided. Walking across a very large hanger floor late in the day he see an individual working … curious he walks over to him and see him pushing a broom around 6:00 p.m. [well after quitting time] and asks, “Sir, what are you doing, it’s late and the place is empty? “I’m helping to put a man on the moon Sir!” This congressman, as the story goes, made up his mind right then and there. “If we have this kind of commitment from the bottom up in NASA to accomplish their mission, I’m going to support it!” … and so it is … where one can identify alignment, focus and passion within an organization from the very bottom to the very top, it becomes self-evident “leadership” exists within!
#2 – here’s a short legend – the final exam in an advanced Philosophy course at a prestigious University was being administered; the Professor walks to the chalk board covered at the moment by a film screen; retracting the screen the professor explains … to understand philosophy, you must understand people, to understand people you must know them, to that end this (1) question will comprise your course grade – “Write the name of the janitor who cleans this room and hallway and this floor every day (so you can attend this fine institution and receive an advanced degree from it) – __________________. [ these students see, pass, interact and rely upon this “silent” humble yet dependable stalwart who day in and day out performs his/her task with dignity and pride … we should ALL know these individuals in our lives … they demonstrate “leadership” at its essence.]
#3 – Finally, a wonderful story from the US Air Force Academy – “William “Bill” Crawford an unimpressive figure, easily overlooked, during the hectic days at the USAFA back in the 70’s was the squadron janitor. Cadets often scurried past offering but a curt, “G’morning,” towards him. Bill was shy, unassuming, walked slowly, as if he suffered some sort of injury. [An old man working in a very young, active World] In an afternoon in 1976, at the library, someone read a story about WWII on the tough allied ground campaign in Italy. September 13, 1943 a Private William Crawford from Colorado, assigned to the 36th Infantry Division, had been involved in a bloody fight on Hill 424 near Altavilla, Italy. In the face of intense and overwhelming hostile fire … with no regard for personal safety … on his own imitative, Private Crawford single-handedly attacked fortified enemy positions … for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, the President of the United States … The Cadet had just learned that their janitor was a Medal of Honor Recipient. Needless to say, the Cadets were awestruck. Word spread like wildfire … Cadets who before would walk past with hardly a glance, now would smile and greet him with a crisp, “Good morning, Mr. Crawford.” Lives were changed in that Squadron; Bill’s as well as every Cadets. A wise person once said, “It’s not life that’s important, but those you meet along the way that makes the difference. Where do you find True Leadership – right under your nose most times … I hope you’re not too busy to overlook it!
The complete story of William Crawford can be found at this web site: http://www.homeofheroes.com/profiles/profiles_crawford.html
Leadership in Business is found everywhere – you simply need to look for it!