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A Janitor's 10 Lessons in Leadership (very long)(12 posts)

A Janitor's 10 Lessons in Leadership (very long)Tig
Jan 17, 2002 12:15 PM
Please excuse my posting this email and my fascination of "the greatest generation" (WWII vet's), but this story is inspiring and thought provoking.

A JANITOR'S 10 LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP
By Col. James Moschgat, 12th Operations Group Commander
William "Bill" Crawford certainly was an unimpressive figure, one you could easily overlook during a hectic day at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Mr. Crawford, as most of us referred to him back in the late 1970s, was our squadron janitor.

While we cadets busied ourselves preparing for academic exams, athletic events, Saturday morning parades and room inspections, or never-ending leadership classes, Bill quietly moved about the squadron mopping and buffing floors, emptying trash cans, cleaning toilets, or just tidying up the mess 100 college-age kids can leave in a dormitory.
Sadly, and for many years, few of us gave him much notice, rendering little more than a passing nod or throwing a curt, "G'morning!" in his direction as we hurried off to our daily duties.

Why? Perhaps it was because of the way he did his job-he always kept the squadron area spotlessly clean, even the toilets and showers gleamed. Frankly, he did his job so well, none of us had to notice or get involved. After all, cleaning toilets was his job, not ours. Maybe it was his physical appearance that made him disappear into the background. Bill didn't move very quickly and, in fact, you could say he even shuffled a bit, as if he suffered from some sort of injury.
His gray hair and wrinkled face made him appear ancient to a group of young cadets. And his crooked smile, well, it looked a little funny.
Face it, Bill was an old man working in a young person's world.
What did he have to offer us on a personal level?

Finally, maybe it was Mr. Crawford's personality that rendered him almost invisible to the young people around him. Bill was shy, almost painfully so. He seldom spoke to a cadet unless they addressed him first, and that didn't happen very often. Our janitor always buried himself in his work, moving about with stooped shoulders, a quiet gait, and an averted gaze. If he noticed the hustle and bustle of cadet life around him, it was hard to tell. So, for whatever reason, Bill blended into the woodwork and became just another fixture around the squadron.
The Academy, one of our nation's premier leadership laboratories, kept us busy from dawn till dusk. And Mr. Crawford...well, he was just a janitor.

That changed one fall Saturday afternoon in 1976. I was reading a book about World War II and the tough Allied ground campaign in Italy, when I stumbled across an incredible story. On September 13, 1943, a Private William Crawford from Colorado, assigned to the 36th Infantry Division, had been involved in some bloody fighting on Hill 424 near Altavilla, Italy. The words on the page leapt out at me: "in the face of intense and overwhelming hostile fire ... with no regard for personal safety...
on his own initiative, Private Crawford single-handedly attacked fortified enemy positions." It continued, "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, the President of the United States..."

"Holy cow," I said to my roommate, "you're not going to believe this, but I think our janitor is a Medal of Honor winner." We all knew Mr. Crawford was a WWII Army vet, but that didn't keep my friend from looking at me as if I was some sort of alien being. Nonetheless, we couldn't wait to ask Bill about the story on Monday. We met Mr. Crawford bright and early Monday and showed him the page in question
from the book, anticipation and doubt in our faces. He starred at it for a few silent moments and then quietly uttered something like, "Yep, that's me."

Mouths agape, my roommate and I looked at one another, then at the book, and quickly back at our janitor. Almost at once we both stuttered, "Why didn't you ever tell us about it?" He slowly replied after some thought, "That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago."
I guess we were all at a loss for words after that. We had to hurry off to class and Bill, well, he had chores to attend to. However, after that brief exchange, things were never again the same around our squadron. Word spread like wildfire among the cadets that we had a hero in our midst-- Mr. Crawford, our janitor, had won the Medal! Cadets who had once passed by Bill with hardly a glance, now greeted him with a smile and a respectful, "Good morning, Mr. Crawford." Those who had before left a mess for the "janitor" to clean up started taking it upon themselves to put things in order. Most cadets routinely stopped to talk to Bill throughout the day and we even began inviting him to our formal squadron functions. He'd show up dressed in a conservative dark suit and quietly talk to those who approached him, the only sign of his heroics being a simple blue, star-spangled lapel pin.

Almost overnight, Bill went from being a simple fixture in our squadron to one of our teammates. Mr. Crawford changed too, but you had to look closely to notice the difference. After that fall day in 1976, he seemed to move with more purpose, his shoulders didn't seem to be as stooped, he met our greetings with a direct gaze and a stronger "good morning" in return, and he flashed his crooked smile more often. The squadron gleamed as always, but everyone now seemed to notice it more.
Bill even got to know most of us by our first names, something that didn't happen often at the Academy. While no one ever formally acknowledged the change, I think we became Bill's cadets and his squadron. As often happens in life, events sweep us away from those in our past.

The last time I saw Bill was on graduation day in June 1977. As I walked out of the squadron for the last time, he shook my hand and simply said, "Good luck, young man." With that, I embarked on a career that has been truly lucky and blessed. Mr. Crawford continued to work at the Academy and eventually retired in his native Colorado where he resides today, one of four Medal of Honor winners living in a small town.

A wise person once said, "It's not life that's important, but those you meet along the way that make the difference." Bill was one who made a difference for me. While I haven't seen Mr. Crawford in over twenty years, he'd probably be surprised to know I think of him often. Bill Crawford, our janitor, taught me many valuable, unforgettable leadership lessons. Here are ten I'd like to share with you.

1. Be Cautious of Labels. Labels you place on people may define your relationship to them and bound their potential. Sadly, and for a long time, we labeled Bill as just a janitor, but he was so much more.
Therefore, be cautious of a leader who callously says, "Hey, he's just an Airman." Likewise, don't tolerate the O-1, who says, "I can't do that, I'm just a lieutenant."

2. Everyone Deserves Respect. Because we hung the "janitor" label on Mr. Crawford, we often wrongly treated him with less respect than others around us.
He deserved much more, and not just because he was a Medal of Honor winner. Bill deserved respect because he was a janitor, walked among us, and was a part of our team.

3. Courtesy Makes a Difference. Be courteous to all around you, regardless of rank or position. Military customs, as well as common courtesies, help bond a team. When our daily words to Mr. Crawford turned from perfunctory "hellos" to heartfelt greetings, his demeanor and personality outwardly changed. It made a difference for all of us.

4. Take Time to Know Your People. Life in the military is hectic, but that's no excuse for not knowing the people you work for and with. For years a hero walked among us at the Academy and we never knew it.
Who are the heroes that walk in your midst?

5. Anyone Can Be a Hero. Mr. Crawford certainly didn't fit anyone's standard definition of a hero. Moreover, he was just a private on the day he won his Medal. Don't sell your people short, for any one of them may be the hero who rises to the occasion when duty calls.
On the other hand, it's easy to turn to your proven performers when the chips are down, but don't ignore the rest of the team.
Today's rookie could and should be tomorrow's superstar.

6. Leaders Should Be Humble. Most modern day heroes and some
leaders are anything but humble, especially if you calibrate your "hero meter" on today's athletic fields. End zone celebrations and self-aggrandizement are what we've come to expect from sports greats. Not Mr. Crawford-he was too busy working to celebrate his past heroics.
Leaders would be well-served to do the same.

7. Life Won't Always Hand You What You Think You Deserve.
We in the military work hard and, dang it, we deserve recognition, right?
However, sometimes you just have to persevere, even when accolades don't come your way. Perhaps you weren't nominated for junior officer or airman of the quarter as you thought you should - don't let that stop you.

8. Don't pursue glory; pursue excellence. Private Bill Crawford didn't pursue glory; he did his duty and then swept floors for a living. No job is Beneath a Leader. If Bill Crawford, a Medal of Honor winner, could clean latrines and smile, is there a job beneath your dignity? Think about it.

9. Pursue Excellence. No matter what task life hands you, do it well.
Dr. Martin Luther King said, "If life makes you a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be." Mr. Crawford modeled that philosophy and helped make our dormitory area a home.

10. Life is a Leadership Laboratory. All too often we look to some school or PME class to teach us about leadership when, in fact, life is a leadership laboratory. Those you meet everyday will teach you enduring lessons if you just take time to stop, look and listen. I spent four years at the Air Force Academy, took dozens of classes, read hundreds of books, and met thousands of great people. I gleaned leadership skills from all of them, but one of the people I remember most is Mr. Bill Crawford and the lessons he unknowingly taught.
Don't miss your opportunity to learn.

Bill Crawford was a janitor. However, he was also a teacher, friend, role model and one great American hero. Thanks, Mr. Crawford, for some valuable leadership lessons.

And now, for the "rest of the story:"

PVT William John Crawford was a platoon scout for 3rd Platoon of Company L, 142nd Regiment, 36th Division (Texas National Guard) and won the Medal Of Honor for his actions on Hill 424, just 4 days after the invasion at Salerno.

You can read his citation at

http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/mohiia1.htm

On Hill 424, PVT Crawford took out 3 enemy machine guns before darkness fell, halting the platoon's advance.
PVT Crawford could not be found and was assumed dead.
The request for his MOH was quickly approved.
Major General Terry Allen presented the posthumous MOH to Bill Crawford's father, George, on 11 May 1944 in Camp (now Fort) Carson, near Pueblo. Nearly two months after that, it was learned that PVT Crawford was alive in a POW camp in Germany.

During his captivity, a German guard clubbed him with his rifle. Bill overpowered him, took the rifle away, and beat the guard unconscious.
A German doctor's testimony saved him from severe punishment, perhaps death. To stay ahead of the advancing Russian army, the prisoners were marched 500 miles in 52 days in the middle of the German winter, subsisting on one potato a day. An allied tank column liberated the
camp in the spring of 1945, and PVT Crawford took his first hot shower in 18 months on VE Day. PVT Crawford stayed in the army before retiring as a MSG and becoming a janitor.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan officially presented
the MOH to Bill Crawford.
Thanks!Len J
Jan 17, 2002 1:17 PM
Exremely thought provoking. I am sure I violate many of the 10 rules repeatedly.

Thanks for the reminder of what it means to lead.

Len
Wow!DINOSAUR
Jan 17, 2002 4:55 PM
A gem, very inspiring. Thanks for sharing that with us..
A lessonSpinchick
Jan 18, 2002 6:53 AM
in humility, respect, leadership, appreciation for life.

Many thanks, Tig.
Lesson is: don't be a hero, it doesn't get you anywhere. (nm).Hardy
Jan 18, 2002 6:58 AM
LOL! (nm)Sintesi
Jan 18, 2002 8:04 AM
uh, nomr_spin
Jan 18, 2002 8:30 AM
Nice self-centered view. Clearly you missed the point. Maybe being a janitor isn't what he expected to be when he was growing up, but that doesn't mean he can't be good at it. There is always pride in a job well done.

As far as heroism not getting you anywhere, you've summed up heroism quite well. True heroes aren't thinking of themselves--they are thinking of others. If you can take out three machine guns and save your platoon, then that's what you do. If you end up in a prison camp, well, tough break, but your platoon didn't get wiped out.

There's a great movie you should watch called "Saving Private Ryan."

By the way, "hero" is one of the most overused words in our language. No one is a hero for making the winning shot in a basketball game, for instance, no matter how close and "important" the game is. Someone like Lance Armstrong is absolutely someone to look up to and respect, especially if you have ever had to deal with cancer. But he's no hero, and I think he would agree.
Jeez, can you see anything from that far up your own @ss?nm..
Jan 18, 2002 8:45 AM
Well, I have heard someBaptiste
Jan 18, 2002 9:37 AM
self-important, arrogant, moralising rubbish in the past, but that trumphs anything I have come across in a long while. What a bag of wind....
Saving Private Ryan (way too long)gtx
Jan 18, 2002 12:00 PM
good special effects, and I am glad that they managed to get some truly brutal combat scenes onto the screen--the type that shows really how sickening and random war is (though if it was more realistic maybe Tom Hanks shouldn't have survived the first scene)--but it is still basically jingoistic Hollywood bs. I find it a bit disconcerting this recent rush to embrace the heroes of WWII, the "good war." There were probably just as many "heroes" in Vietnam, but we lost and the cause was questionable, so..? And what about Somalia? Hollywood is about to unleash a film version of Black Hawk Down (the book was excellent, but I'm nervous about the movie--made by the same people who brought us The Rock, etc.). Some of the kids involved in the Somalia debacle acted in a self-less, heroic manner. But are they heroes? Do you only get to be a hero if you act in a) a brave, self-less manner and the b) context is right?

I saw Tim O'Brien read a year or two ago (he fought in Vietnam and has written some of the best fiction I have ever read about war--check out The Things They Carried if you haven't read it). He is still very haunted by his experiences in Vietnam (as I'm sure many WWII vets are) and he said he basically feels like a coward for having participated--that he regrets it to this day (this guy experienced some heavy stuff--he served as an infantry sergeant in the Army's American Division near Quang Ngai, in 1970-71 and got a Purple Heart). He said he thought the heroes were the kids who were willing to lose the respect of their families and communities and country and go up to Canada or wherever (not to be confused with people like Clinton or Bush who took the easy way out). Now, I'm not a pacifist, and I'm not saying we shouldn't have been involved in WWII, and I'm extremely grateful to everyone who fought for us in that war, but I think Saving Private Ryan presents a very one-dimensional and somewhat sanitized side of this whole "hero" business. I agree with you that the word hero is overused, but often I think we try to make things less complicated than they really are--especially in Hollywood war movies (which follow the same dramatic structure as all other Hollywood movies).

Here is a passage from Tim O'Brien's story "How To Tell A True War Story." (though I really recommend reading the story in it's entirety--I wish I could type the whole thing in.)

"A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of the story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from a larger waste, then you have been made victim of a very old and terrible lie."
Saving Private Ryan (way too long)mr_spin
Jan 18, 2002 12:29 PM
I think Saving Private Ryan was largely misunderstood. To me, the point was that these guys were given a specific mission to do, to go in and get out. Instead they chose to go far beyond the mission at a very high cost, because it was the right thing to do. Even after they found the guy, they chose to stay and fight and die. Why? Because it served the greater good. As they said at one point, the objective was to win the war, not to survive it.

I think there has to be a separation between doing good for good's sake and heroism. Ordinary people who go about their lives aren't heroes because they choose to be courteous and kind and not to screw anyone. And yet, everyday there's another story where that's what we are led to believe. Are people so bad that we have to celebrate the good ones? It's an interesting question.

In Somalia, there were at least two Medal of Honor winners. Two guys, either Seals or Delta, volunteered to defend one of the downed helicopters because the pilot was trapped inside. (My memory is a little sketchy and I loaned out the book). They were up against overwhelming force, surrounded on all sides, yet they rappelled in and held until they ran out of ammo. Both died. The idea wasn't to go in and die, but more help couldn't get there in time. Heros? No question. Qualification #1: You give up your life to help another, you are a hero.

I was six in 1970, so I don't remember much of Vietnam. But I have read a lot of the good books on it. One of the best is "We were soldiers once...and young" which is soon to be a major motion picture. Another great, great book is "A Bright Shining Lie" which was made into a terrible TV show.
Saving Private Ryan (way too long)gtx
Jan 18, 2002 12:44 PM
yeah, I'm younger than you are, but I'm a bit of a Vietnam junkie (various family member were involved in it, and I think it's had a profound effect on our culture). And I agree with your basic definition "Qualification #1: You give up your life to help another, you are a hero." I always think of that guy who jumped into the Potamic to rescue people after that plane crashed--managed to bring back several people before he died. And yes, "A Bright Shining Lie" is a great book. Saving Private Ryan impressed me in some respects but it also annoyed me--for most of the usual Hollywood reasons.

Regarding Hollywood, here's the latest on the film version of Black Hawk Down (which I plan to see)

http://film.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/Exclusive/0,4029,623534,00.html