35 Dollar Wisdom Story of Servant Leadership

"I need to go grocery shopping today, Charles.  How much money do you have?"   Charles pulls his wallet out of his back pocket.  Looks in, "$35." 

Seems like a normal conversation, but it changed my life!  You see, I was visiting Charles and his family on Pine Ridge Reservation.  A few of us gathered around him at his front door, listening to him tell stories and share wisdoms from the Lakota ways of being. 

After Charles' wife went back into the house, it dawned on me.  $35.  That's ALL they have!  There's no bank account.  No money stuffed under the mattress.  9 kids and grandma and all they have is $35!!  That realization sunk into my brain.  I was taken aback by the level of faith he has that 'the universe will provide.' 

In the Presence of Wisdom

When you go into another culture, watch for these 'surprise' moments.  You have a choice.  You can judge these moments by your own culture's norms and standards OR you can suspend judgment and attempt to learn something.  Perhaps a profound discovery awaits!  These are moments when you are in the presence of wisdom.

What happened next left me in awe.

A green beat-up conversion van pulls up.  A young man, about 20 years old, with flowing long black hair gets out, leaving the engine running.  He walks up to our little crowd.  Beaded drumstick in hand.  "Hey Uncle, I have this drumstick.  My pregnant girlfriend beaded it and it looks real nice."   "How much do you want for it?" Charles asks.  "$35."   "How about $25?"  The young man nods and hands the drumstick to Charles.  Charles pulls out the wallet and hands him $25.  The young man walks away.  Charles puts the drumstick under the lawn chair and continues where he left off.

WHAT just happened?!?!

You might think how inappropriate it was for Charles to give away $25 of the $35 dollars in his wallet.  His family will suffer.  They'll go hungry.  How irresponsible!! 

Servant Leadership

In that moment, I realized a few things.  Again, I marveled at the level of faith these people have that 'the universe will provide.'  To me, it was a perfect example of servant leadership.  As I've heard stories told that tribal chiefs were often the poorest in the tribe.  Why?  Because they were constantly giving away their wealth to keep the tribe cohesive.  In their role, they were usually the spokesperson to the outer world and often had access to resources that the rest of the tribe did not.  They would gather the wealth and distribute within the tribe. 

Imagine a world where our leaders followed this same philosophy!

Ancient Wisdom

Here I was sitting on the front doorstep of a Lakota chief, exactly re-enacting ancient structures and philosophies in place for centuries!  At the end of the day, the few of us listening to Charles would leave him with a few hundred dollars – more than enough for his wife to go grocery shopping! 

Faith.  Often, servant leadership means giving more than we have.  We give our time, money, hearts and souls to our mission, trusting the universe will meet and provide for us somewhere along the way. 

If you are a leader (and we all are)…..It's YOUR time!


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