A little girl who with her mother cared for the homeless on L.A.’s Skid Row became a medical physician with an expertise in public health. A little boy who helped his father scour toilets now leads an award-winning janitorial service and mentors young men and women interested in entrepreneurship. A teenager who never imagined attending college is now a respected judge who educates students about the law and inspires them to lead lives of meaning.
All of these incredibly resilient individuals with compelling life stories are either current or former clients of my Arlington-based consultancy, Mouthpiece Communications. They demonstrate something sorely needed in today’s society whether the focus is on courtrooms and coffee shops, hospitals and hotels, beauty salons and bookstores, or other industries: servant leadership. These leaders give of their time, their invaluable experience, their own resources, and often without the expectation of receiving something tangible in return. They put the needs and interests of others at the center of their decisions because they want to improve lives and leave their communities just a little better than they found them.
When as a child, Dr. Sylvia Morris, M.D., MPH, showed compassion to vulnerable populations in Los Angeles, she was foremost concerned for their welfare, not her own. Her mother volunteered in a clinic that provided medical care to the homeless in the Skid Row section of L.A., and Sylvia would accompany her mom helping to count pills in the clinic’s pharmacy.
Educated at UC Berkeley, Georgetown School of Medicine, and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Dr. Morris now works to transform communities by treating one patient at a time. She frequently speaks at community forums and delivers health awareness presentations that help people to understand the connection between health and wellness. She has also led a delegation of international college students to New Zealand and Australia to study the health systems of those regions.
Larry Kemp of Kemp and Sons General Services runs the family business that his father started with a mere ten dollars. His dedication to helping companies operate with cleaner environments is matched only by his commitment to investing in and mentoring future business owners. One example of that cultivation is when Mr. Kemp rolled up his sleeves, and alongside a young man, cleaned an office restroom. Another example is when he purchased suits for young boys in Fort Worth public schools. Through leading by example, Mr. Kemp speaks to who the students can become if given encouragement and support. He also shares lessons with business undergraduates at his alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington.
The Honorable Shequitta Kelly, a presiding judge in Dallas County Criminal Court No. 11, had a challenging childhood that did not include a blueprint for dealing with abuse, becoming a teenaged mom, or preparing for college (let alone, law school). Decades later, Judge Kelly along with fellow Judges Amber Givens-Davis, Lisa Green, and Stephanie Mitchell go far beyond their work on the bench. They frequently use their personal time to lead workshops at Dallas-area public high schools through their program, Pipeline to Possibilities. The goal is to educate youth on various aspects of the justice system, to keep the students out of prison (or in some cases, from returning to prison), and to inspire them to become leaders in society.
Nelson Mandela, the late, beloved South African president, said: “A leader… is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, where upon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” I am continually inspired by the leadership of my clients and reminded always of why I launched Mouthpiece. It is the same reason that propelled me into a twenty-plus year career in journalism: to give voice to diverse voices, to educate, inform, and to help others who need help. In other words, to lead!
At a pivotal time for leadership in America, I am reminded of another quote, this one from Patrick Lencioni, the bestselling author known for business classics like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The Advantage and The Ideal Team Player. He offered: “I’m tired of hearing about servant leadership because I don’t think there’s any other kind of leadership.”