From a summer in Memphis.
The best parts in my day revolve around Lipton green tea of the citrus variety.
Normally this wouldn’t be my drink of choice, but at the end of a long day ripping up floorboards or repairing roofs, that little green drink is a glimpse of majesty.
You see, everyday as I finish putting up tools and rounding up campers, my homeowner, Mr. Ross, grabs a Lipton from a fridge and hands it to me. He ushers me into a chair in his living room, knowing full well that I’m covered from head to toe in shingle grit and chimney soot. Once he even got his revolving fan out of his bedroom, plugged it in and turned its breeze right at me.
One day in particular I remember feeling uncomfortable under his graciousness, knowing full well I gave in that day to weariness and frustration. I felt undeserving of that cold tea, yet Mr. Ross handed me that bottle out of the fridge without question. There was no debate in his mind. What a beautiful picture of grace.
On that same afternoon, Mr. Ross and I spent some time chatting about our team members for the week as I waited for my ride back to the SOS building. They were a hard-working, motivated crew from the very Methodist church that launched SOS 27 years ago. Mr. Ross said with a half-smile, “I see you working up there, Caroline. They work hard, but I don’t see anybody pushing like you do.”
In that moment, I felt the guilt of not living up to that praise. That day I hadn’t pushed hard. That day I let the weight of the summer and the sun keep me from making my worksite what it can be. That day I tried to carry myself, and you’d think I’d know by now that never works.
Now, as I reflect on his words, I can’t help but hope that Mr. Ross sees me as that kind of leader. I can’t help but hope to be that kind of leader daily.
This summer has taught me an exceptional amount, and one of the chief lessons revolves around the idea of leadership. SOS has redefined for me what it means to lead — with authority in one hand and humility in the other. Here are some snapshots:
- Acting like you have it all together, especially when you don’t, will not make people respect you.
- When things are going well, look at others; when things are going poorly, look right at yourself.
- Only arrogant leaders refuse to ask for help.
- Asking for constructive feedback is the mark of a leader who truly wants to lead better.
- Servant leadership means you never demand respect or authority, but that you use the position bestowed on you to build up the people around you.
My time at SOS is winding down. I have only two more weeks of camp to finish shingling a gigantic part of the roof, rebuild a portion of the roof above the porch and finish several structural projects inside. Just typing that sentence made my blood pressure rise to deep-fried donut level. And yet, I feel peace as I type this sentence, resting the knowledge that if I was leading this endeavor alone, I would absolutely fail.
And I’m not alone. From my campers’ laughter to Lipton green teas to breezes on the roof in the heat of the day, I’m reminded over and over again that I am not alone. I’m reminded over and over again that leading first starts with setting the highest standard possible for yourself and trusting your team to follow. This summer has proven to me that they will.