Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sam Arthur, The Perfect Character

Who is Sam Arthur you ask? He's my favorite character from Robert H. Thompson's book, The Offsite - A Leadership Challenge Fable. I'd like to tell you about Sam, but my leadership challenge is to do so without giving away too much about the book or revealing what we discover about Sam as the story progresses. Suffice it to say that Sam is the gardener, or as he would call himself, "the groundskeeper" at Tucson, Arizona's La Mariposa Resort & Spa - the location of the offsite meeting which brings together hi-powered teams from two competing pharmaceutical companies.

So of all the colorful players featured in the book, why do I like the gardener? Consider for a moment that the author could have given Sam any job at the hotel - manager, bellman, concierge, etc. Sam's the gardener because Thompson offers us a perfect metaphor for leadership. Sam sees to it that the soil is healthy. He makes sure the plants get enough water and sun, and that their environment is free from weeds and pests. The plants are given everything they need to succeed on their own. Sam knows that if he creates the right conditions for growth, his gardens will flourish. One would hardly imagine Sam yelling at the flowers to grow faster or fuller. While that kind of behavior is clearly not Sam's nature, he also understands that it doesn't work. Sam's approach to nurturing his garden is the same approach great leaders use to build and grow successful enterprises.

(Don't get too caught up in being compared to a plant. If most CEOs treated their employees as well as Sam tends to his garden, you shouldn't mind at all.)

But Sam is not simply defined by his job or the associated leadership metaphor. Sam teaches us about jumping to conclusions about the people we meet in all walks of life each and every day. He reminds us of the importance of having real passion for whatever we do because, more than pay, the joy we bring to others should serve as the true reward for our life's work. Sam also redefines the meaning of the word "perfect." Interestingly enough, it's not about perfection at all.

Pick up a copy of The Offsite. Find out how Sam uses the word perfect and discover your own favorite character. There are some great ones, but to me, Sam is...well...perfect.

10 comments:

  1. Leo, without having read The Offsite, your description of Sam immediately brought to mind Leo, (coincidence???) the servant, in Herman Hesse's "Journey to the East", who Robert Greenleaf saw as the epitome of "servant leadership." Leo, in his role as servant, ensures that a group of travelers have a flawless journey. When Leo disappears, the group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned. I will have to read The Offsite to see if
    Sam has the same impact; to see if
    Sam is a servant leader.

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  2. Thanks for the comment and the reference Karl. As you describe the story, I'd regard Sam's impact as even more impressive because the success of the leaders or the team would not require his ongoing presence. Sam does a masterful job of helping people help themselves, teaching them to BE servant leaders long after he's out of the picture. It's what I would regard as the mark of a great coach.

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  3. One of the first (and best) pieces of leadership advice I received was from Ken Blanchard that true leadership happens when the leader isn't around.

    Building on the gardener metaphor in THE OFFSITE, a leader plants the seed, tends to its care, and keeps it growing - at times, the best and brightest blossoms open up in the leader's absence, yet are a direct result of the leader's actions.

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  4. Thanks Angie. Keep in mind too that Robert Thompson makes Sam a gardener in the desert. That's just one of the tips that Sam must be the real deal!

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  5. Another wonderful thing about the metaphor of Sam is that as part of a team, he quietly goes about his day pursuing his passion, doing something he loves, and enabling miracles to happen.

    These quiet leaders often go unnoticed in our companies and in our communities even though, in the the end, their efforts often have a more lasting impact than other more recognized leaders. There are Sams all around us.

    Look for them and recognize their efforts with a word of thanks when you see them. It can make their day - and yours.

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  6. Joan Koerber WalkerJune 15, 2009 at 10:12 AM

    Note: Joan Koerber Walker was kind enough to leave a comment as I was transitioning my comments area to become CommentLuv enabled. Here's what she had to say:

    "Another wonderful thing about the metaphor of Sam is that as part of a team, he quietly goes about his day pursuing his passion, doing something he loves, and enabling miracles to happen.

    "These quiet leaders often go unnoticed in our companies and in our communities even though, in the the end, their efforts often have a more lasting impact than other more recognized leaders. There are Sams all around us.

    "Look for them and recognize their efforts with a word of thanks when you see them. It can make their day - and yours.

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  7. While having not read this, the description of the metaphor of a gardener is ideal. From my experience as a leader and supervisor, plus my education and research interests in leadership, I have come to embrace that a leader creates what you termed in your post as the "right conditions." There is in my opinion a false assumption that charisma or the outgoing personality makes the best leader, but this type of charisma attracts followers, it does not gain their respect, trust, or define long term performance. As also a long time organic gardener, I know the importance of quietly observing the garden, then giving it what it needs to blossom on its own with the faith that it will do so. For example, I have a team and I observe each individuals talents and how the team interacts and performs as a whole. I then offer education and training where needed, encourage the natural talents of each individual, and ensure the technology, tools, and items are available for them to accomplish there job, then I step back and wait for the harvest. Great post!

    Dale

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  8. Thanks Joan and Dale. You both agree that creating the right conditions for success is essential and that it doesn't have to take a charismatic leader to do so. Sam's quiet strength, positive attitude and ability to create the right environment for his gardens serve as a powerful illustration for the effective leadership you both describe.

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  9. I have been watching this conversation all day. What fun! Keep it up. I see seeds sprouting and buds budding. Sam would be pleased. He might even say it was "Perfect."

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  10. Robert, thanks for joining and for creating such a terrific character!

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