I’ve had a lot of heroes throughout my life, from teachers to coaches to family members, people who matter. Those special people during important moments who have lifted me up. Lately, however, most of my heroes have been those engaged in public service.
One of my current heroes is Brian Leventhal, a Homeland Security Officer. Brian lives for public service, evident in his storied career. Brian spent a perilous decade on the S.W.A.T. team, served as a member of our elite Highway Patrol Unit and worked over six years in “street clothes” on robbery detail. Brian has a keen glare—always aware of his surroundings—and forever diligent. Confident in his instincts honed over 24 years of duty, he is fully committed to his public service. To serve and protect. What solidified his hero status in my book, however, was the time he brought a Batman lunchbox to work. (More about that later).
We have heroes everywhere making substantial contributions to the world around us. They are often in the background, unnoticed and unsung. Police Officers and Fire Fighters are on the top of my list.
When we walk past these officers on the street everyday, its easy to forget that they are keeping us safe. These heroes stand ready to confront dangerous situations, head-on, often risking their lives. This month, the City of Philadelphia lost Captain Michael Goodwin, a heroic firefighter, in the line of duty. Captain Goodwin, whose from a great public safety family (his brother James Goodwin is a Narcotics Officer) perished fighting a fire in a crowded residential neighborhood trying to keep people safe.
In Boston, in the wake of the marathon bombings, we lost MIT Police Officer, Sean Collier at the hands of the terrorists. These tragedies are a stark reminder that we live in a dangerous world and that there are heroes poised to answer the call to keep us safe.
However, we shouldn’t have to have tragedies and crisis for us to identify and recognize our heroes. Many of our employees work dangerous jobs and put their lives at risk everyday. Whether its in public safety or working with dangerous equipment or working through violent storms, employees answer the call on a regular basis. They do their best in service to the people of Philadelphia.
Heroes exist in the shadows of virtually every department; they are in every nook and cranny of our City, just as committed, just as brave. These heroes can be found working in dangerous circumstances. They can be found among the likes of Philadelphia Gas Works’ Mark Keeley and the Fleet Department’s William Sweeney, who both tragically lost their lives serving our City in the past year.
You can also find heroes who face the possibility of physical danger when they confront great challenges in their neighborhoods. Those not afraid to stand up. These are the community heroes. In PhillyRising, our neighborhood initiative, we see community heroes every day: Diane Bridges of North Philadelphia, Dominic McFadden of Point Breeze, and Pastor Cookie of Kensington, to name just a few. These heroes have poured their commitment into otherwise down-trodden neighborhoods to help spawn a new vibrant community of block captains, town watch groups, clean-ups and youth music programs. We need more of them.
Through community heroes, our city has seen transformative programs like MIMIC (Men in Motion in the Community) with Edwin Desamour helping to support and develop at risk youth and ex-offenders; or the Ray of Hope Project, under the jubilant Ray Gant, who works to bring urgent home repairs to those who cannot afford it. There are also the many organizations who come together to make the MLK Day of Service the best in the country.
These heroes often hide behind their own humility. They don’t ask for awards, they don’t ask to be treated as someone doing something great. They just ask for help. When it doesn’t always come, they keep moving forward determined to make a difference.
These heroes exude a spirit of service to others that overrides any self-interest or concern for their personal well-being. This type of behavior was evident in Boston when, in the midst of the horror of multiple explosions around them, strangers came to the rescue immediately hoping to save as many lives as they could. And they did.
But how does this relate to management? As a manager, one of the most important aspects of your role is to identify, empower and celebrate your heroes, even if they don’t want to be celebrated. To celebrate means more than presenting awards or briefly mentioning them in a blog post. Celebrate means empowering them to make an even bigger difference. To lift them up so others may emulate them. To re-charge their batteries so they can continue their great work. And to give them the support they need to flourish.
Identify the heroes within your organization, the ones with the capacity to lift up others and empower them. Give them the tools they need to lift up their co-workers. To lift up their department. To actually help lift up their entire community.
These heroes live their lives in ways that inspire all of us to be better. In the Managing Director’s Office, when I work long hours, feel exhausted and it seems like things are coming at me from every direction, it is our heroes that inspire and bring things into proper perspective. As I think about the personal sacrifices that our City heroes make everyday, I often say to my staff, “let OUR public service be worthy of THEIR sacrifice.” They are our example.
Brian Leventhal, the successful Homeland Security Officer, brought his son’s Batman lunchbox to work because he had a job to do. He needed to have a lunch box because he would be on the road with me all day with no time for lunch and he had the humility to not care how it looked; he was just trying to do the job. Brian wasn’t too proud, just eager to serve. Traits worthy of Batman. He doesn’t think of himself as a hero—he just is.
There are heroes in your organization who don’t know it. Find them. Celebrate them. Empower them. Watch them lift up all those around them. If you do those things, you might just be surprised at how it will lift you up as well.
That is what our heroes do for me everyday.
Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.