Is Good Sam leadership too close to the music?

He had written a novel and composed a musical masterpiece. The was novel typed on a manual typewriter, the musical masterpiece written by hand, and both were on yellowed, coffee-stained sheets, bound with rubber bands and tucked away into cardboard attaché cases.

He carried them everywhere. No one had ever read them.

Until he let me. And now over 20 years later, I don’t remember either. But I remember him.

In an earlier post about scenario-based training, I wrote about when I worked in university advancement at SJSU and one of the programs I was responsible for was the annual fund program. Students were hired part-time to call alumni, parents and friends of the university and raise supplementary funds for academic programs.

It was my first real management position where I managed (at its peak) 75 student fundraisers, 2 supervisors and one clerical/admin person, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for the university.

Far from having developed emotional intelligence, I did my overly-sympathetic and impulse-driven best.

Almost all of the staff were students, except one man. I’ll call him Gary. He was born in Vienna, Austria, and raised in London, England, and had been a U.S. citizen for at least a decade. He had master’s degrees in English and music.  In his fifties when he started working for our program, we hired him because he really needed a job.

And with his European accent, he rocked the phones. He was one of the best fundraisers we ever had.

But he had a myriad of personal problems. His personal hygiene was poor, there were constant complaints about his “odor” that included reeking of cat, he did actually take care of over 20 cats in a tiny studio apartment, he wore the same dirty weathered suit everyday, the phones he used had to be immediately sterilized at the end of a shift because of how filthy they became, when under duress he would overreact in violent verbal outbursts, and too many other idiosyncrasies to list here.

Again, he was one of the best fundraisers we ever had.

I bought him personal hygiene products (that he never used), helped him cart his cats to and from the vet (and oh the lovely scent they left in my car), fronted him money when he needed it to get to Fremont to care for his elderly mother, listened to him when he needed to vent or just talk about writing and music, tried to get him to use the university employee’s counseling/assistance programs…

Eventually Gary was evicted from his studio apartment because of his cats and he had to quit and move to care for his mother. I never heard from him again.

The best leaders are empathetic with the ability to relate to their employees, even help them when appropriate, but overly-sympathetic and too involved personally?

Workplace experts, including and especially human resource departments, have recommended for decades that leadership should not to get personally involved with their employees. Improprieties abound when impulse control limps along. Plus, being to close takes it’s toll personally on your own time and personal world.

However, we’re human and we’re messy. A cacophonous symphony of colorful stumbles and bumbles.

We can develop ourselves as individuals and leaders for the greater good, but is Good Sam leadership too close to the music?

Maybe, but if I had to do it all over again for Gary, I would.

Just don’t ask me about the things I wouldn’t do over again.


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