Follow the Leaders
Scot McRoberts, executive director of the Virginia Council of CEOs, has a renewed perspective on life and leadership. As it turns out, a week-long trip with nine middle-schoolers can do that for you!
The journey forced everyone out of their comfort zone at times, and the long hours spent repairing the home of a 94-year-old woman in an economically depressed Ohio town helped Scot come back with different ideas and perspectives about how he leads and serves. “It was a growth experience for me,” he says.
Here’s what else he had to say about the adventure.
A: Lorain County, Ohio, is about 25 minutes west of Cleveland, on Lake Erie. It was, at one time, a steel mill town. That changed when the recession hit and the plants closed down, eliminating 15,000 jobs overnight. What was once a booming community is now a shadow of itself. There are lots of empty storefronts, businesses, and churches.
I was there as part of a mission trip to help someone in need in that community. More specifically, my group helped to repair 94-year-old Victoria’s home. We worked long, hard hours – working primarily on her kitchen, which a previous crew had re-floored and dry-walled. We were doing trim work, caulking and painting, and working on doors and cabinets. We also did some landscaping for her.
The ultimate goal of the trip was to give the young people in the group an experience that will help them grow and mature in their faith.
Q: This trip took some group members, and you, a little bit out of their comfort zone. What did you learn from each other?
A: I have been on other mission trips, and I find that when I’m taken out of my comfort zone and given the opportunity to do work that benefits others, I grow. It’s a great chance to get a new perspective on your life, work and what you do every day. I had never been to Ohio or Lake Erie before. It was clear we weren’t in the West End of Richmond anymore. It gave me a chance to practice being open minded and friendly with people who appeared to be different.
Also, the middle-schoolers were invited to do something they had never done before, whether that was to install trim work or caulk or paint. To see them take those tasks on with such enthusiasm and without fear – that was inspiring for me to see.
A: I knew this, but it pays to have a reminder that those who are the best leaders are the best servants. By that, I mean you are able to identify and meet the needs of your employees or whomever. I also think you have to give your followers a chance to fail, and you have to remember it’s ok if they do. People grow when given an opportunity to try.
I remember on the final day of painting, a bucket of paint got knocked over. It took two hours to clean it up. The kids stuck with it, and the kitchen turned out fine. One child in our group was trying to nail baseboard to a wall, and he was just too small and not coordinated enough to get the job done. We just found something else for him to succeed at, and I bet he will get that trim next time.
I also was reminded that people are much more capable than we give them credit for. Even a 13-year-old kid can do lots of things that you wouldn’t normally think they could. The same is true in business and with your employees and volunteers.
There were many leadership lessons happening around me. I just had to open the receptors.
A: I really enjoyed watching the kids relate to the Victoria, even though there were eight decades between them. They were really interested in connecting with her, and they had long conversations with her about her life and interests. That was special to see.
The best part, of course, was when we finally finished putting her kitchen back together and we escorted Victoria in to see her new kitchen. To see the joy on her face and the pride on the faces of the kids was the ultimate highlight.