Sunday, May 03, 2009

Dead White Knights in an Upside-Down World

In the year since I last posted an entry, the world stood on its head.

My beloved Suns missed the playoffs for the first time in five years, the D-Backs ended the 2008 season with a dismal .506 record, U of A was controversially awarded the last at-large berth in the NCAA tournament field and no one remembers what happened to the Coyotes.

All of this might paint a grim portrait of Arizona sports, but for the Arizona Cardinals and ASU Sundevils. The Cards made it all the way to the Superbowl for the first time in their 89-year history, and both the ASU men’s and women’s basketball teams reached the NCAA Tournament—ASU's women going all the way to the elite eight.

In business and politics, the first African-American in history was elected President of the United States, while stalwarts of the financial industry crashed and burned in balls of fiery flames taking the global economy with them.

In Arizona, housing prices plummeted and our beautiful state went from the fastest growing in the U.S. to negative growth and a $3 billion dollar deficit. No one’s certain whether or not we will have a state government after July 1.

On the home front, my neighbor’s yard, which he’d kept impeccably neat during eight years of residence, spontaneously sprouted a lush green carpet of weeds. They flowered and grew to more than 5’ tall choking his rose bushes which withered and browned. We suspect foreclosure.

Meanwhile, The-Man-Named-Bill (a.k.a. The Teenager) moved to California and into a dorm, started college, moved out of the dorm, signed a lease on a house, changed his major to theatre, got a job with South Coast Repertory and bought a refrigerator, range, washing machine, dryer, microwave and broom. His house now smells like socks.

A lot has happened in the world, and a lot has also happened to me.

About this time last year, I was working through the application and interview process to join the 2008-2009 Class of Valley Leadership. I felt nervous and excited, like a high school senior applying to her college of first choice.

It’s a good thing the windows were rolled up in my truck when I read my acceptance letter or I’m sure my neighbors would have called the police. I screamed. Loudly. Then I called my two friends who had written letters of recommendation, and we hollered some more.

Funny thing was, I had no idea why. I didn’t understand the program, and didn’t know what to expect. But on our first program day last Oct., we heard a talk by Bill Post, former CEO of Pinnacle West and Valley Leadership Man of the Year 2006.

“The white knight-style of leadership is dead forever,” he said, going on to describe coalitions formed by behind-the-scenes leaders (people few have heard of) that brought to Arizona important growth initiatives including all-day kindergarten and light rail.

I told my friend who had convinced me to apply to Valley Leadership that hearing Bill Post’s talk was a religious experience. She replied, “So, you drank the Kool-Aid. Good.”

Yesterday, after a class year marked by one inspiring speaker and amazing experience after another, we heard a talk by Dick Bowers, former city manager of Scottsdale, Ariz. Even though I went to high school in Scottsdale and lived in or near there most of my adult life, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of Dick Bowers.

More accurately, I must not have been paying much attention. I can list from memory all of the mayors under whom Mr. Bowers served, including Herb Drinkwater, whose daughter went to the prom with my brother, and Sam Campana, who visited with my son’s Cub Scout troop and whose sister is one of my Valley Leadership classmates.

Then again, perhaps my apparent lack of attention to local politics isn’t entirely to blame. City manager of a small city in a not particularly notable state isn’t a position that we think of as breeding inspirational leaders. In Western culture—the culture of King David and Achilles and Lancelot and John Wayne—we’re more likely to look to sports coaches or Olympic athletes or presidents for inspiration. I’d wager a steep bet that I’m not alone in my obliviousness to the life and story of Mr. Bowers.

And Mr. Bowers prefers it this way. “Leadership’s not about being famous,” he said.

Quietly, behind the scenes of noisy council meetings and negative news reports and complaining citizens, Mr. Bowers engineered the transformation of Scottsdale from a potential future as a sleepy suburb of Phoenix into a hugely successful city.

His technique? Value-centric servant leadership. “It’s the bedrock of everything we did,” he said. His message, that every one of us can and needs to be a leader, comes not a moment too soon.

It seems the world is upside down and we need more leaders like Dick Bowers to help us stand on our feet again. According to Mr. Bowers, that means we need more leaders like you and me.


BallpointWren said...

Hey, lady! I am still alive and kicking, about to send RFKS (the Rockstar Formerly Known as Squirt) off to college. Hubby and I will be empty-nesters!

I'm glad you're still around, too!

Anonymous said...

Welcome back Elizabeth and congratulations to you and your son! Drop me an email when you have the chance.
Dick Levesque

Night Writer said...

What is it with weird coincidences between us, Elizabeth? Last night my wife and I were just discussin the concept of raising leaders that get things done behind the scenes, never becoming famous, and then I troll the blogroll again and come across your post. I'd really like to know more about this program!

Night Writer said...

Oh, and here's a plein air site you'll like; it belongs to a long-time friend of my wife's.

Anonymous said...

The year 2001 should not be repeated