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  • DrCelia

Mom’s Lessons on Servant Leadership


The servant-leader is servant first…it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first…A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong - Robert K. Greenleaf

Last month, I self-published Life As A Tapestry: A Poetry Memoir inspired by my mom, Elizabeth, who like me, was born in Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles. The launch of my first memoir over Easter weekend while I was visiting with my mom opened the door for a conversation to learn more about her experience and what she loved about being an Installation and Repair Technician with Pacific Telephone (later AT&T) for over 27 years. Here, I’ve captured more context about when my mom became a phone technician in 1975, and I've distilled some of Mom’s wisdom into Servant Leadership through a phone technician’s eyes. I refer to my mom as a servant-leader because she is the primary model of leadership I looked up to as a child, and her example has influenced who I am today and who I will evolve into until the day God calls me home. Mom remains my ongoing inspiration for becoming a better person.


As Mom recalls, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prompted Pacific Telephone Company to offer opportunities for women to serve as “outside” field technicians alongside men in 1975. Mom jumped at the opportunity as she could make twice the pay that she was earning for performing her “inside” job as an account representative for large firms. During her “trial” period, Mom attended night school to learn the technical requirements of phone installation and took several physical tests she had to pass to prove her strength and competence including playing basketball, taking apart a telephone switchboard, and climbing a utility pole with gaffs or as she describes, “They were scary, they’re sharp, they [had] blades coming out and what you [did was] you put these things on your feet and strapped them on and climbed the poles with no steps!”


After passing their tests, seven women (including Mom at age 25) walked into the Pico garage in Los Angeles to start their jobs as “outside” phone technicians. The main challenge was navigating a women’s bathroom in the garage with only one toilet. In addition to battling spiders under customers’ houses, bees’ nests on the poles, and guard dogs in backyards, Mom crossed paths with some mice hiding in high-rise phone line panels she repaired. Although Mom’s job might not seem glamorous, she was also a Beverly Hills phone tech and visited the homes of many famous movie stars including Johnny Depp!


The following are key lessons I learned about becoming a servant-leader from Mom’s recollections:


1.  Caring: “I cared about the people…it’s cool to know that they really meant something to me. It wasn’t just a job. I’m spending a day with at least five different families or people…I might be the only person they see or talk to that day…I’ve become this person who not only fixes the problem, but is willing to sit there, listen, and talk to people, and I loved that part.”

 

2.  Empowering: As she described her experience of being among this group of women phone techs who blazed new trails, Mom said, “They were waiting for us to fail in Los Angeles….We were a team that held up each other. We believed in each other. I don’t think any of us ever looked at each other and thought, ‘I’m gonna be better than her or she’s not going to make it’. We all loved each other.”

 

3.  Serving: “I’d pull up in the van, and the kids would come running to my truck. In the beginning, I didn’t know why. We always carried spools of wire, different colors, that we used for different things. When I opened the truck, the kids would say, ‘I want wire, I want wire’ like today’s video games. Anyway, I always gave them some wire. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to do it but [the company] had money, and the kids were kind of poor.”

 

4. Partnering: “When you worked with a group of people that were all on the same page, it was fairly easy to get two heads together to solve a problem. How are we going to do this and get it done? So, I never felt bad when I had to call for somebody else on a bigger job. That type of thing where some people, they do a crappy job they couldn’t figure out, and then leave it for another person…not me.”

 

5.  Loving: Mom repeated she truly loved her job as a phone technician, at one point reminiscing, “You know as a technician, people looked up to you…you’re wearing tools and they’re making noise; things are swinging and everything…I’m the big bad technician here, and it was pretty awesome!” In doing so, she shared her love for her work by giving love back to the families she served in their homes during installation jobs and the businesses she supported as a repair tech.


Summing up her pioneering role, Mom said, “Oh man, it was beautiful, it was exciting…to be outdoors all day...I think back, and I say, my God, Liz…you got to do a job you loved…to get up in the morning and do that work!”


Thank you, Mom. I hope all of us can find such joy in doing work we love in service to others. I love you!

 

Please read or share a copy of Life As A Tapestry: A Poetry Memoir available on Amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. Comments sent so far include “The poems cause me to think,” “It’s sitting on my nightstand,” “I’ve tabbed several poems to return to for inspiration,” and more. If you’ve read it and would like to share your thoughts or tell me about your mom, contact me at drcelia@pcs2consulting.com.

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