5 lessons on leadership from the Andy Griffith Show
When Andy Griffith died on July 3, the tributes and career retrospectives hit quickly. He is most remembered for the television program bearing his name which ran from 1960-1968. It was widely popular at the time and remains a favorite for new fans in syndication. One reason its popularity has endured is it combined humor with humanity and simple life lessons that resonate over time.
During the series’ run, Sheriff Andy Taylor provided many examples of servant leadership that are a great example for leaders in any capacity today. Here are five examples.
1. Earned authority
Much was made of the fact that he rarely carried a gun. While some might argue it added to the homespun feel of being Sheriff of small town Mayberry, he frequently noted his authority came with the badge he wore and how he wore it. He carried authority by earning the respect of the citizens based on exemplary conduct not by instilling fear.
In one episode he walked directly into the line of fire of a holed-up bootlegger and calmly took the rifle away while other law officers froze under cover. He later explained the shooter could have shot any of them if he’d wanted – he was just trying to scare them off. He respected Andy’s ultimate authority.
2. Let others fail
Sheriff Taylor occasionally had to risk turning over responsibility to his deputy. In one episode he had to leave town for a day and let Barney Fife act as sheriff in his absence. In his zeal to prove himself, the acting sheriff managed to arrest the entire town on minor infractions.
Upon return, Andy had to restore order and taught Barney the importance of exercising judgment in understanding the larger priorities versus going by the book. If a leader is unwilling to assign responsibilities to others, they are not taking enough risk to enable their growth and development.
3. Assume responsibility
In a story involving son Opie, Andy taught responsibility for Opie’s actions with his new slingshot. Opie accidently kills a bird leaving behind a nest of fledglings. With Andy’s prodding, Opie raises the birds himself until they are ready to fend for themselves. In the process, Opie becomes attached to them and wants to keep them as pets. Andy reminds Opie that the mother’s responsibility was to raise them up and let them go. As the surrogate, it was Opie’s responsibility too.
4. Facing fear
There are so many episodes with this theme it is hard to pick one example. One involves Andy receiving a letter from a convict he put away in prison. In the arrest, Andy had injured him in a shoot out. Now the convict was getting out and wanted to “settle some things” by paying a visit. Friends and family urged Andy to leave town to avoid another conflict. He didn’t.
In a poignant talk with Opie, he admitted to being afraid but had to face the fear. In the end the ex-con came to thank Andy for creating the circumstances for him to turn his life around and learn a trade for starting a new life after prison. Andy taught everyone that fear imagined is greater than fear faced.
5. Build up others
One of my favorite episodes is when Andy and his sweetheart get trapped in a cave. Earlier in the day Barney is humiliated when he mistakes the bank president for a bank robber. He is ridiculed by several of the men in town. Later, at a town picnic Andy and Helen venture into a cave and are trapped inside by a rock slide. They manage to escape through another entry, but not before Barney organizes a rescue operation enlisting all the men who had ridiculed him earlier. When Andy realizes this, they return to the cave so they can be saved by Barney.
After they are rescued, Andy tells all the townspeople how fortunate they are to have a take-charge leader like Barney Fife as deputy. He restored Barney’s confidence and stature in the community.
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