DEA Meeting: The Potato Sack Chronicles with Bill Bancroft

Jennifer Blakeney introduced Bill Bancroft, our guest speaker from Conbrio, a Dallas-based coaching and consulting firm.  Bill shared with us “The Potato Sack Chronicles:  Lessons from a lifetime of serving and leading that can help you be more effective personally and professionally.”

When Bill was a young person, he was a Peace Corp volunteer, sitting on potato sacks, coming out of Bolivia in the back of a truck.  These sacks were hand-woven and hand-dyed of hand-spun threads and were meant to be durable, holding 100-150 lbs of potatoes.  He was heading out to work with poor, agrarian farmers with sheep.  They only used as much of the wool from their sheep as they needed, but he was there to train them to start thinking about marketing their wool and improving their lives.  Making that change in thinking was really difficult!

The potato sack doesn’t just symbolize the two years of his life in Bolivia, it is a metaphor for servant-leadership, what he has done all of his life.

Servant-leadership allows people to be innovative and creative and invites “aha” moments which establish change that lasts!  In the words of Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu writing in the 5th Century B.C. , “The highest type of ruler is one whose existence the people are barely aware. The sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it.’ ”  Decide to serve and then make a conscious choice to lead.  Givers (not takers) are those who succeed.

After Bill came back from Bolivia, he worked as a journalist, then in a Big-4 accounting firm in business development.  When he started in consulting, his focus was on the processes and tools in order to be effective.  Bill began looking for the silver-bullet!  He was working with a mentor who asked “what in your life really energized you?”  He focused on organizational development and read books and went to lots of conferences and workshops.  There were successes with his clients but people and organizations weren’t changing: there is no silver-bullet about how to get things done and take organizations to the next level.  The processes and tools are really benign.  The magic is you and me and character of presence and how we show up!

To be a successful servant leader, remember 1) effective leadership is something you owe yourself, others and the world:  it is about other people; 2) a fixed mindset will shut you down and a growth mindset will set you free:  how can I learn and get better from a bump or bad event? 3) winning is playing the infinite game:  continuing on that path.

Servant-leadership is as easy as making an introduction to someone or as difficult as it can be to get some recognition for someone for a “job-well-done”.

If you want to lead as a servant, remember:  1) preparation and flexibility:  be prepared for failure; it is good to have a few plan B’s; 2) helping people and fixing people is difficult:  it implies they are broken and can hurt their dignity and self-respect; serving levels the playing ground and you can work together as equals.  For the next step if you are stuck, get your map out!  Even if it is the wrong map for today, use it as a motivating tool to move forward!

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