Leadership Lessons from the Fields of Firebaugh Pt 1 by Benny Bajoyo

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When I was in college, my immediate family lived outside the U.S., so on holiday breaks, I would go with friends to celebrate with their families. One time, I went with Chris and Andrea to Northern California for Thanksgiving; we drove up together in Chris’ Honda Civic. 

Over the Thanksgiving week, Andrea received an unwelcome “gift” of a bad cold and Chris was not feeling all that well, so I drove Chris’ little car back south. Traffic was moving fast, and by 3:30 p.m., we were heading into the farmlands of Central California. Our trip started figuratively heading downhill when we passed a couple of big rigs, traveling well past the speed limit, and suddenly lost engine power. I alerted Chris, navigated my way between the trucks I’d passed seconds earlier and eventually rested on the side of Interstate 5. We were there for almost five hours when we saw CHP lights approach. The officer pulled over and called a tow service to come for us, but couldn’t stick around; he had to deal with the holiday traffic.  

The tow truck finally arrived around 9:30 p.m. The driver was contractually limited to the distance he could tow us based on the type of car insurance Chris had, but he was kind enough to take us beyond the 15-mile limit to the nearest town — Firebaugh — a sleepy little place in every sense of the word. There was nothing open, not even a fast food restaurant. The driver offloaded our Honda at the most reputable mechanic shop in town, probably the only one that repaired non-farming vehicles. He recognized our plight and practicing servant leadership, kindly drove us about another mile or so to the nearest motel.

We pooled our cash to get a deluxe two twin bed suite. “Deluxe” in this case really meant it was the best room they had with a working wall heater. Andrea took one bed and Chris took the other. I tried to sleep on the only armchair in the room, but had to keep upright; if I slouched, my feet would slide from under me onto the dusty linoleum floor. By midnight, I knew I was not going to get any sleep that night, so every hour I would walk the foggy mile back and forth to check on our car and belongings at the mechanic shop.

In the morning, the friendly tow truck driver came to the mechanic shop to check on us. The local mechanic delivered the news that we would need a new engine; it would be less costly than repairing the broken one — but he had no spare Honda engine sitting around. Our next mission was to get the car to a Honda dealership, and to our delight, the tow truck driver offered to tow us to the nearest one. 

When we got there, we decided our best option to get back to college was taking the bus, so the dealership shuttle service dropped us and our bags at the nearest Greyhound bus station. We eventually settled in for the ride to San Diego, with a stop in Los Angeles. It was great to able to rest a bit, except for the noise of a young eager recruit expressing his excitement at heading to boot camp.

There is more to this adventure that will be continued in part 2 of this blog. The story has multiple leadership lessons in it, but for now we’ll just share one.

Experience Matters  

During the time of our ordeal, the perspective of the more mature tow truck driver helped us make critical decisions based on his life experience and knowledge of the area. We relied on his recommendations, but eventually made determinations on what was best for our small group. Trivial as this might seem, we can learn from those who have already walked the journey and have knowledge to share. To this day, I cannot pinpoint where our car broke down, but our tow truck driver was someone who was familiar with the area. This just reminds me to never discount anyone’s opinion. I have no knowledge how educated our tow truck driver was, or what his past work experience was. Sadly, I cannot recall his name, but at that moment, he was the subject matter expert and his experience, opinion, and knowledge mattered.  He showed true servant leadership not just by driving us but also by sharing his knowledge.

Is there a leadership challenge at your company that could benefit from your experience? Or, are you facing a decision that could benefit from the experience of someone else? We’d love to hear from you at info@servantleadershipinstitute.com

~Benny Bajoyo