I had a crush on a girl in college named Leigh Ann Justice. We took a statistics class together. Carolina blue eyes that could make any college senior attend all his 8:00am MWF classes! One problem. Leigh-Ann was way out of my league. Not even close!
One thing I’ve never lacked in life though is guts. I was raised by a father who once told me that the reason Brooke Shields never went to her high school senior prom was because nobody asked her! All the boys just assumed that she had a date. Never be one of those boys!
I finally built up the courage to ask Leigh Ann on a date. I bought two tickets to the James Taylor concert at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Dean Dome – two hours west of our school. I think Leigh Ann said yes to the concert and no to the date. But one must walk before they run!
I’ve never seen a concert like it. 18,000 screaming fans welcoming James Taylor back to his hometown. There were only three things on stage – James, his guitar and a microphone. Nothing else. His Sweet Baby James voice filled the entire stadium.
After the concert, we got in my car and raced back to Greenville. An hour into the drive a North Carolina State Highway Patrol Officer pulled me over on Interstate 40 doing 80 in a 65. So much for getting back to Greenville for last call. Leigh Ann was not impressed.
Instead of the normal – hand me your driver license and registration – the police officer asked me to get out of my car and join him in his. That is when I received my very first mathematical lesson on speed.
The officer took out a clip board and asked me where I was going. And where had I come from? He then took out a calculator and showed me on paper that if I drove the speed limit, I would get to my destination in 110 minutes. And if I drove 80 miles an hour, I would shave 16 minutes off my trip. “16 minutes”, he asked, “Is that worth $250 (the cost of my speeding ticket) and the points on your driver’s license?”
This police officer spent twenty minutes lecturing me about the dangers of speed. Told me that 80% of the accidents on the highway happen when speeding is involved. Then he ripped up my speeding ticket and ordered me to take that pretty girl back home safely.
A year later I was a college graduate and working my first job for a global youth leadership organization. One of the educational programs I was running took 15 international students to Krakow, Poland and Bratislava, Slovakia. For our final dinner, our hosts invited all of us to their modest home. This family did not have much, but they took out all their best china dishes to welcome us. They served my favorite Slovakian dish – pork schnitzel and potatoes – family style. I started by grabbing the pork schnitzel, putting two pieces on my plate, and passing it to the person sitting next to me.
The following morning one of the students pulled me aside and gave me feedback that I would never forget. “There were 18 people around the table and 18 pieces of pork”, this student claimed. “You served yourself first. You took two pieces. And you are our leader?”, he asked. “Leaders should always eat last!” And then he walked away. My first lesson on greed – from an 18-year old kid.
I sent an e-mail last week to my buddy, Rod Dixon. I wrote about Rod in my last book, The Heart-Led Leader. Rod was once one of the fastest marathon runners in the world – going to four different Olympic Games and winning the New York City Marathon in 1980. He closed his e-mail reply to me with these ten words – The world has lost its way with speed and greed.
Speed and Greed. I think my friend Rod has is right. Many of our best companies, best organizations, best religious institutions and best schools have lost their way to speed and greed.
Twenty-five years later, I still think of that State Highway Patrol Officer. He made a tremendous impact on me. Not just to drive slower. But to lead slower. Live slower. And love others slower.
And I will never be able to eat pork schnitzel again without thinking of those profound words I learned in Slovakia – Leaders Should Always Eat Last! Instead of living lives where we serve ourselves first – perhaps we should live lives where we serve others first. That is music to my ears – Sweet Baby James!