Lessons in Leadership with a World Class Leader

Recently I was given an incredible gift. I had the opportunity to spend four hours with Andrew Young. His list of accomplishments is long. To list only a few, he was a pastor, a close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement, a U.S. Congressman from Georgia, and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Also, he was the Atlanta mayor instrumental in bringing the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta.

During our afternoon conversation, he talked and I listened. I learned so much about life and leadership. In this series of posts, I will share what I learned from this man of God. He is a great leader who has made history multiple times.

This series contains lessons learned from the wisdom Andrew Young shared with me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did my conversation with this amazing man.

I was at a community leadership awards ceremony several months back.

Andrew Young received a lifetime achievement award for his work as a leader. I knew a little bit about him but not much. I knew he was part of the civil rights movement, was an ambassador to the United Nations, and had served as the mayor of Atlanta.

I also remembered us being together on a flight from Paris to Atlanta in 1986. He was one seat behind me for over ten hours, and I had not said one word to him. But when I heard him speak while accepting his lifetime achievement award, I wanted to meet him.

I wanted time with him.

The last time this feeling came over me was at the first High Tech Prayer Breakfast I attended in 1993. I knew I needed to meet with Bill Leonard. That meeting changed my life forever. A short time after meeting Bill, I surrendered to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

When Andrew Young was announced as the recipient of the award, he got up from the table at the foot of the stage. He raised his eighty-seven-year-old frame very slowly and had someone help him up the two steps. He rocked side to side as he walked toward the podium which was only six feet away from the steps. He knew it would give him support, thus providing much needed relief.

He started by thanking everyone for this great honor. Then said, “You know, I was confused in college. I really didn’t know where I was headed or what I was supposed to do. But I looked around me and saw God created everything in this world with a purpose. That’s when I realized He must have a purpose for me, too.

“I graduated with a divinity degree.

“My father was disappointed that I didn’t become a dentist like him. I knew I didn’t want to be a dentist, but what should I be? I didn’t know. Everyone who graduated with me wanted to go to New York City. That’s where it was all happening at the time. I went to pastor a small church of twenty-five people in Marion, Alabama. They were the only people who wanted me.”

He talked for a few more minutes about his life and how it unfolded. In those few minutes, I really came to respect this great man. It was clear to me he was a man of God.

He trusted God with his next step at every stage of his life. He knew God had a purpose for him and was open to whatever God had in mind. He never came across as a man of great ambition but rather a man who was called into leadership at just the right place and time.

I sized him up as a reluctant leader.

This might sound unfair, but he appeared never to be chasing position or power. It was always thrust upon him, I would say, by God. And to his credit, he always stepped into it.

But when it was over, whether civil rights leader, ambassador to the UN, or mayor of Atlanta, he moved on to whatever God had as his next purpose. Because of these thoughts, I wanted to meet Andrew Young.

I was at a lunch with my good friend Yvonne Bryant Johnson.

Yvonne asked me to join her and another lady she thought I might be able to help. The other woman was the leader of a women’s ministry which developed leaders in the African-American business community.

For whatever reason, I found myself telling this story about Andrew Young. I ended the story with, “I would really like to meet him and just talk. You know. Get to know him.”

Yvonne said, “You want to meet Andy? I know him. I’ll set it up.”

“Why would he meet with me?” I asked.

She said, “You are a leader in our community, and he will want to meet you.”

“Set it up, and I’ll be there,” I said.

She set the meeting. I was to meet Andrew Young at his office right after a doctor consult for my prostate cancer. I thought the doctor’s appointment would take thirty minutes. It took almost three hours. I stood Andrew Young up. But we eventually did meet. It was a 2 pm appointment on a Monday in late February 2019.

I thought he would spend thirty minutes with me.

I had no agenda. But I met him while on my current journey of discovering my next purpose. So this was on my mind. We visited for four and a half hours. I couldn’t believe he gave me this much time. I didn’t talk. He did. I listened.

My next series of articles will outline what I learned from this great man. I never had a meeting like this. I was talking to a man who lived a life I only saw on TV and read in magazines and newspapers. He lived the history I watched and read about.

As I reflected on our conversation, I realized how much I learned.

I learned lessons on how to live my life in relationship with God, the discipline of old age, the value of free thinking young leaders in a community, trusting God with your life, philanthropy when you have nothing to spare, career, leadership, community service, and life purpose at each stage of my life.

I’m looking forward to sharing Andrew Young’s stories with you. I think they’ll impact your life as they did mine.

Stay tuned!

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2 thoughts on “Lessons in Leadership with a World Class Leader

  1. This shows me that we always need mentors. There is always someone who is a step ahead of us in life who can impart wisdom. I have a neighbor who ran the program that put the first satellites in space. He’s 98, but still brilliant – I should take him to breakfast to see what I can learn.

    Thanks for leading the way with your curiosity and humility, Charlie. You set a powerful example.

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