The Leader (should) Look Up.

black and white historical photo of hoffer plastics

I often write about looking down. I’m a believer that the leader of an organization needs to understand what is happening on the production floor, inside the business, and understand all the inner-dynamics of the organization.

But the leader also needs to look up.

In March, I was at our kids’ school gala. It was Friday night after a long week, and I would have rather been at home winding down from what had become a long and busy day. What made the day a little different from other long and busy days was the emotional edge that came with it. It was the 66th anniversary of the founding of Hoffer Plastics, which always brings a mix of happiness, joy, and honestly, a longing for my grandparents. But attending was not only the right thing to do, it also put a smile on Sarah’s face. So, I attended. Mid-way through the dinner a stranger came up to me and struck up a conversation. I vaguely recognized this person, but couldn’t place them.

“Thank you for being a good neighbor,” he began. My mind raced through its rolodex, yet I couldn’t place living by him. His next statement made me realize he was referring to the business, not our home.

“Hoffer Plastics has been a good neighbor for all these years,” he continued. “In fact, when I moved in your grandfather came over to my house and introduced himself. Before leaving he told me to speak up and let him know if we ever needed anything. I jokingly replied that we could use some of that dirt –you guys were building an addition at the time. He then left and went on his way. The next day, however, a man showed up at our door, and he informed us that your grandfather authorized that we could get as much dirt as we wanted. We were dumbstruck.”

So was I.

My grandfather has been gone since 2007, and here I was at an event that I didn’t really want to be at because I was tired, on the day of our 66th anniversary as a company no less, hearing another story about his goodness as a man and leader.

My response back was a little on the emotional side. I told him that he had just given me an unexpected gift. Only God provides unexpected little gifts like these. As I left him, I said a quick “thank you God” prayer.

When I got back to the table, I told Sarah about this exchange. “Your grandfather was always looking up,” she said. “You have quite an example to live up to.”

I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to being task oriented. Like most people, I have a job with various time-sucking demands. The temptation is to keep my head down and work.

But, when have I knocked on someone’s door in our community? When I have served those in the neighborhood around Hoffer Plastics?

I’ll admit it. Never. Not once.

But Grandpa Hoffer – from what I’ve gathered from this exchange and many others just like this one, made time for looking up.

This spring, I will honor Grandpa Hoffer by challenging myself to look up. I want to see, and serve, the community around me as well as the people inside the walls of Hoffer Plastics. Out with the tasks, in with looking up.

Leadership is more than realizing some numeric goal, or executing some commercial strategy. While these things matter, leadership is first about improving the lives of human beings. In order to do this, the leader has to look up and see the people, especially those in need, around them.

Thank you for the reminder Grandpa.