A tribute to Fred

I wanna tell you about a guy I once knew named Fred.

Fred is not famous. You won’t find him on your social media feed, on the cover of a magazine, or doing an interview on television. He won’t develop new ideas or theories, and you won’t find him on the speaking circuit. Even if Fred had a platform, he wouldn’t know what to do with it. Although Fred will likely never be famous, he is more well-known than most people in this world.

Everybody loves Fred. And I mean everyone. His employees hail him when he enters the building, customers are relieved when he picks up the phone, and he gets hugs from many of his customers when they see him in person. When he is absent, people want to know where he is and if he’s okay. Fred works at a vending company, which is what makes the adoration all the more remarkable. After all, can you name the vendors who serve you during their brief visit to your business each day? Not many can. But all of the people in the organizations Fred serves knows Fred by name.

What makes Fred so special? One small vignette exemplifies why Fred is so special.

One winter morning, one of the trucks broke down. Fred was selected to break the bad news to the driver, informing him that he would have to drive the spare truck. The driver groaned.

“Fred, do you know how cold it gets in that truck?” the driver asked. Everybody knew about the broken window on the driver’s side, one of many problems and why it was reserved as a spare. Fred nodded his head while frowning, thinking of the many cold mornings he drove that truck.  

“I know buddy. I’m sorry, but there’s not much we can do. We’ll get the mechanics in today, and we’ll hopefully have it ready for you tomorrow.”

The driver sighed in misery and proceeded to get ready for his day while grumbling to himself. Preparation complete, he walked out into the lot to get his truck. He was intercepted by a beaming Fred.

“I fixed it,” Fred said, flashing his signature grin.

“What do you mean you fixed it?” replied the driver incredulously.

“C’mon, take a look,” Fred replied. Fred and the driver walked across the lot to the spare truck, where the driver slowed to a stop, his mouth agape.

Across the opening was a makeshift covering of clear packing-tape. Strips of clear packing tape were stretched across the opening where the window had once been, attached to the metal around the edges with duct tape. The job was so well done that a driver could see through the tape. The truck was running, the heater was on, and the cab of the truck was already warming up nicely.

“Pretty good, huh?” asked Fred, standing back and admiring his work.

The driver was speechless. Finally, he turned to look at Fred and, after a moment of searching for the words while shaking his head, he simply grinned and said “Thanks Fred.”

Just another day working with Fred. The driver may have been surprised by Fred’s ingenuity, but not by what Fred did it. Fred is always the first guy to help you load your truck if you need it, the first to pick up product that spills on the floor, the first to say hi to you while putting a hand on your shoulder and asking how your day was, the first to offer you his pen when your busy looking for one, and the first to loan you some money for lunch while always saying “Don’t worry about it,” and meaning it.

And this doesn’t stop with his employees. Fred was just another driver for many years before he became a supervisor, overlooked for promotion many times because organizations often overlook people like Fred. In fact, Fred had to be pushed into a management role because Fred is the type of person who will advance someone else ahead of him. Now that he is a supervisor, Fred has the advantage of knowing most of the organization’s customers by name from his years as a driver. No matter how busy he is, he takes a moment to ask about the details of their lives, including birthdays, family events, new births and engagements, and he is quick to offer solace when something tragic happens. Fred not only listens, he also empathizes: everybody feels a little bit better after talking to Fred.

The performance and results are the same, but the impact is now just a little bit wider.

Every organization is on the lookout for somebody like Fred. Managers dream of having a whole team of Fred’s. Personality profiles and hiring strategies aim at finding more people like Fred, and Fred is the example upheld by managers when motivating their employees. People like Fred are salt of the earth, paying daily homage to the adage of twenty percent of the people doing eighty percent of the work. People like Fred are the backbone of business, and if you don’t have enough Fred’s in your organization, your demise is only a question of time.

So why aren’t there more Fred’s in more organizations? Since you’re probably tired of “Fred” at this point, let me substitute the word that most aptly describes Fred.

Fred is a servant.

Mention the word “servant”, and many are apt to think of someone indentured, like a slave.  The word concocts visions of butlers and maids, yes-men and groveling, or even a simple-minded person that does menial tasks for those more important than him or her.  Yet, a servant is simply someone who engages in the act of serving. In this sense, we are all servants at some point in our daily lives. A spouse cooking dinner for their family is a servant, helping your child with their homework is being a servant, same as driving someone to the airport, or even holding a door for someone.

Whenever we do something for someone else as part of our job description, we are being a servant. Whenever we do something for someone else that is not a part of our job description, we are being an exemplary servant. You can’t learn it by studying it. You can only learn it by practice. This is also why there are not more servant-leaders in the world. Leadership can be taught, but being a servant cannot.

Allow me to tell you about the formation of a servant…

One thought on “A tribute to Fred

  1. Pingback: Doing the dirty work | Don Hartness

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