One of my all-time favorite sayings is: “A manager will spend most of his/her time telling others how good he/she is, while a leader will spend most of his/her time telling others how good they are.”
It supports the fifth level of leadership that noted author Jim Collins says is necessary for executives to move from good to great – “a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will.” Simply put, leaders focus on building up their teams, not themselves.
Are you fortunate to have a person in your life who fits that description? I can think of a few, but the one who has been top of mind for me lately is Dave Fearis, past president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA).
I first met Dave in June 1996 when I joined the GCSAA staff. Engaging, passionate and friendly, he had an ever-present sense of humor that put you at ease. There was no big-time sense of entitlement or pulling of rank. He truly valued relationships. In my nearly 18 years at GCSAA, I was closer to Dave than any other board member. This is not to say the others were not good people, but Dave and I were able to extend our relationship beyond the elected leader/staff dynamic.
Much of that has to do with the fact that Dave lived just a few minutes from me, our kids went to the same high school (though not at the same time), and we volunteered for several of the same charitable and religious activities. Some 15 years apart in age, Dave was a fatherly figure who was there to offer advice or act as a sounding board. He loved it when I brought my young children to his maintenance shop to sit on the “tractors.” They shared many laughs and giggles.
Even after Dave retired from the board, we would stay in touch beyond our GCSAA event interactions. We’d meet for an occasional breakfast or lunch. While work would be part of our exchange, we spent most of our time talking about family, mutual friends, sports and the like. I never left a conversation with Dave not feeling better about myself when it ended than when it started. For Dave Fearis, it has never been about himself when we hunker down in the back booth of McDonald’s or the pub table at Tanner’s Bar and Grill. I’m sure I’m not the only person who had Dave’s magic spell of “feel goodness” cast upon them.
A little over a year ago, I was in need of a Dave Fearis “fix.” I was deciding whether to continue a path as a freelance contract professional or seek a position working for a company or organization. So when I reached out, the response was immediate. We met the next day at McDonald’s. As he had always done in our previous meetings, Dave asked about me, my family, and shared some positive comments about some aspect of my skills and abilities.
It was about a half hour into our conversation when Dave’s bubbly personality suddenly became subdued. He said he had some news. I could tell it was serious. “I have Alzheimers,” he said. And, then without missing a beat, his eyes lit up, a big smile appeared on his face, and he said with a big laugh, “But you really can’t tell, because I’ve forgotten things all my life.”
That is quintessential Dave Fearis. My issues were minor compared to what he faced. But he saw a friend in need. We talked a bit more about his condition, but he cut that short. His concern was about me. Since that meeting we have exchanged regular calls, emails and met a couple of times. He is doing well. He’s so busy that there is no time to feel sorry himself. And if even if there was, he would have none of it.
Dave was an excellent golf course superintendent and was an outstanding leader for his chapter and GCSAA. But he’s at his best when serving others – a trait we can all take to heart.
COVER PHOTO BY BRUCE MATHEWS