During the dark days of the Great Recession my wife and I took to watching occasional episodes The Andy Griffith Show, the 1960s sitcom, on the TV Land network. Andy Griffith's death earlier this month was a good reminder to tune into the show again. His leadership lessons are timeless.
Watching Andy and Barney with Opie and Aunt Bee takes me back to my childhood but also re-opens a window on an imaginary world where problems were simple and could be solved with patience, understanding, trust, and, most of all, love. Imaginary or not, Mayberry, North Carolina is a good place to visit when the rest of the world seems so foreboding.
The glue of the show was its star, Andy Griffith, who modeled aspects of his character on his North Carolina roots. Small town life was depicted as quirky but gentle, problematic but solvable, fun, and especially caring. As sheriff Andy Taylor, a widower with a young son, Griffith imbued the role with aspects of leadership worthy of emulation.
Here's what I mean:
1. Andy as lawman.
Andy gives citizens of Mayberry protection from the outside world. He foiled bank robbers and bootleggers and even cow thieves. But when he wasn't searching for lawbreakers he was serving as an example of how to uphold the law with an even hand, a cool temperament, and a sense of humor. Leaders with power need to use it with discretion. Often you can accomplish more by demonstrating control rather than exerting it. That is, project authority and maintain sense of control by remaining cool and calm in the face of adversity.
2. Andy as friend.
Andy was always a person friends could count on. He served as the voice of reason when citizenry got into trouble with each other. For example, Floyd the barber was an inveterate gossip. Goober was gullible. Otis was the town inebriate. Aunt Bee was the caregiver. All found a welcome sounding board in Andy but few if any ever spared him their advice. Leaders must be patient and listen. They should always be open to feedback, even when they don’t want to hear it.
3. Andy as teacher.
As Mayberry’s sheriff, Andy supervised his sole subordinate, deputy Barney Fife. In entertainment terms, Barney was comic relief, but Andy always regarded his less-than-capable second-in-command as someone whom he could educate, much as he did most citizens of Mayberry on one or more occasion. Leaders who teach are those who have mastery over their subject and show concern for others by a willingness to impart such knowledge and experience with others.
4. Andy at leisure.
Andy took work seriously but not himself. He loved to fish and take his girlfriend, Helen, out. He also played the guitar and sang. Work-life balance was important to Andy and accounted for his healthy outlook. He had perspective. Good advice for any leader with a high-pressure job; competing interests will all ask for time but unless the leader makes some time for himself, he risks fatigue and burnout.
5. Andy as father.
Perhaps what Andy did best was be a father to his young son, Opie. Though Andy was helpless in the kitchen, he was peerless when it came to letting "young ‘uns" discover how the world (at least in Mayberry) worked for themselves. Management is the process of enabling others to succeed; part of that involves coaching: counseling, cajoling, and challenging.
Andy was not perfect. His tolerance for Barney’s foibles would not pass muster on a real police force. He was old fashioned when it came to women’s rights, though he did evolve after going out with Helen. And his easy-going nature sometimes got the better of him when outsiders sought advantage over him.
Mayberry is a fantasy of course. Filmed in the 1960s, the show avoided the race issues that were roiling the South. Only the light side of Southern reality--hospitality, neighborliness, and good cheer--was portrayed. The darker side that William Faulkner, William Styron and, Tennessee Williams depicted in their novels or plays was nowhere to be seen. Criticizing a show for what it is not is a task better left to critics.
For me, Sheriff Andy Taylor illuminates shades of leadership from which anyone in a top position can enjoy as well as learn from. Andy Taylor may not be real but his lessons are.