Andy Griffith died last week. You can learn more from him about how to lead an organization than anybody else.
I was knocking on doors around St. Mary's Hospital as I ran for State Assembly in 1992. That neighborhood was a "naturally occurring retirement community," meaning that older folks were concentrated there by choice rather than by plan.
I could work that neighborhood in the afternoons because I knew I'd find everybody at home and usually eager to talk. But not talk endlessly -- because at four o'clock, Matlock was on.
I could follow the show as I went from door to door, the gray-haired Andy Griffith's portrayal of the easy-going septuagenarian defense lawyer being a big hit among the Greatest Generation.
Even though Matlock and I had sort of a relationship in a political way, it was Andy Griffith's first show that made a lasting impression on me at a young age. Titled creatively The Andy Griffith Show, it ran from 1960 to 1968, and my family watched every episode.
For those of you under fifty, Griffith plays Andy Taylor, the good-humored sheriff of the small town of Mayberry, North Carolina. Reruns can be viewed every day. Anyone interested in the art and science of leadership should study every episode to learn how it's done.
Andy was always gently keeping Barney Fife, his officious and hair-triggered deputy, in line. He was lax about all the rules and he loved to go fishing, but he cared about his town, he understood how it worked and he always got the bad guys.
I came to the view after awhile that an organization does best when it has a leader whose personality is more or less opposite of its nature. If your city wants to move fast on everything, it's best to have a mayor that calls for more deliberation; if you're town is deliberative to a fault, better to have a mayor that pushes for decisions. (This is not, by the way, a prescription for electoral success, as I proved in the end.)
And when it comes to a town that feeds on controversy and drama, I felt it was better to dampen rather than fan the flames. When people were getting wound up about something or other, deeply offended and insulted about this or that, I thought it was best to ask that everyone take a few deep breaths about whatever it was that was getting them so worked up.
Andy Griffith had a long and good life as an actor. He probably didn't intend his greatest contribution to be 249 lessons in leadership -- the number of episodes in which he played Andy Taylor. But for me that's what it was. Good fishin', Andy.