Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What A Coffee Purchase Teaches Us About Humility & Leadership

Photo Credit: Center for American Progress
It is doubtful that Ambassador Gary Locke, U.S. Ambassador to China, anticipated the news that would be generated by his purchase of an airport Starbucks coffee but it has caught the attention of those he serves.

Locke, the first Chinese American governor in U.S. history when he held that office for the state of Washington from 1997-2005, caught the media's attention when he was recently photographed at the Seattle-Tacoma airport carrying his own backpack and attempting to purchase a coffee through the use of a coupon. You can see the photo here.

For those of us that are Americans, we may not understand what the fuss is all about but for the citizens of China, the country that he relates to as a representative of the United States, it has caused a stir. Look at what Chen Weihua, a writer for the China Daily, has to say on the matter:
"To many Americans, there was probably nothing unusual about this. But to most Chinese people, the scene was so unusual it almost defied belief.

How could someone who holds the rank of an ambassador to a big country not have someone to carry his luggage, and not use a chauffeured limousine. In China even a township chief, which is not really that high up in the hierarchy, will have a chauffeur and a secretary to carry his bag.

Watching this episode, many Chinese people might start to wonder if the people at the US embassy in Beijing in charge of arranging Locke's reception would keep their jobs.

I am sure they did given another photo of Locke that was circulated by netizens [active members of online communities]. It features Locke, with the same backpack he was carrying at the airport, apparently trying to buy a cup of Starbucks coffee with a coupon at the Seattle airport. When the coupon wasn't accepted, he paid with his credit card.

"Why was there no one to buy a coffee for the boss?" many Chinese netizens asked."
Ambassador Locke demonstrates an important lesson for us in humility and in leadership. When appointed to a position of public service, the expectation is that we would serve our constituents. All too often, however, the roles get reversed and those of us in leadership positions ask others to serve us.

As great as the example that Ambassador Locke has shown us, Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of what it means to be a servant leader. From John 13:
"It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. ..."You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."
There are many ways that a leader can be described but one of the best ways is as one who serves others.

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