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Leadership and the Andon-Reid Bed and Breakfast

As I’m writing this column, I’m warming my feet by a roaring stone-clad fireplace at the Andon-Reid Bed and Breakfast in Waynesville, North Carolina. The fireplace is raised so that when I put my feet on the ottoman they are level with the flickering flames. As I glance outside, I can see a hawk slowly circling at the foot of an entire mountain that rises from the valley floor. Besides the fire, the only sounds are the clicking of my keyboard and gentle guitar music flowing from speakers hidden somewhere nearby. The quiet is itself a welcome thing.

I can still smell the lingering aroma of a wonderful two-course breakfast that began with mango and peach yogurt mousse and ended with pineapple pancakes and bacon.

Andrea and George are the innkeepers and they seem to do everything. Andrea’s southern roots are from Florida and Alabama, and George sounds British but claims to be from Australia. His stories–each of which have to be cajoled from him–are told with a mix of British reserve and a Mark Twain-like ability to allow the fewest possible facts carry the tallest possible tales, all told with a knowing glint in his eye.

They serve breakfast at precisely 8:30 every morning. Early risers can have a cup of George’s coffee–he calls it “jet fuel”–at 7:15. The tables are set with a fresh place setting daily, and the food is served on real China plates and cut-crystal glasses.

Yet nothing seems stuffy or forced. To the contrary–you feel like you’ve dropped in on friends who don’t mind fussing a little bit over you. People trickle into the main room from one of the several guest rooms scattered around the house, pick out a table, and chat as though they’ve known each other for years.

Andrea cooks, and George brings out the food and tells you what you are about to eat. He knows what side to approach from, and when he comes back to re-fill your coffee cup he seems to silently glide in and back out so quietly that but for the fresh steam rising from your white coffee cup you might not have noticed him at all.

If you will remember, we began this year with my two resolutions: to lose ten pounds and to complete Dante’s The Divine Comedy. This weekend I’ve read large sections of the book while enjoying coffee in front of George and Andrea’s fire. The book is huge–96,000 words–and I’m about halfway through it. As for my other goal, let’s save that conversation for another day.

I’m reading chapter xvi.  Dante and Virgil have begun working their way up the mountain of purgatory. They have to start at the bottom, then work their way up seven levels of the mountain, and each level they learn something about one of the seven deadly sins–pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. Today they are dealing with wrath.

The setup of the book is brilliant. We meet people working through their various faults, we learn how their faults were manifested in their earthly lives, and, as we listen in on their exchanges, we come away with some enlightening principal.

In this chapter, Virgil and Dante spend time with a fellow named Marco.  Dante asks him, in effect, “Why is the world in such bad shape?” That question, asked 700 years ago, is as relevant in the twenty-first century as it was in the fourteenth. Marco agrees with him, and explains that even though people are free to act as they will, the world has still gone astray. He gives us two reasons for that: our bad choices, and the failed guidance of our leaders.

I think we can all agree that we can make better individual choices. But let’s think about our leaders.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t see many leaders in our world. Oh, there are people in charge, people who have titles, and there are people who follow them. But are they leaders?

And if they are, how many are leaders for good?

Luke 16:10 tells us that before someone can be trusted in big things, they have to be trusted in little things.

The more I look at the national stage, the more I wonder if those in high positions were ever trustworthy in the little things. Did they learn the immense value of humility, of the lion-strength of a servant’s heart?

I’d like to send them all for a long weekend at Andon-Reid. And not to be pampered, but to watch how Andrea and George remain firmly in charge while they maintain the hearts of servants; to see how very much the directed actions of a humble heart can accomplish. But mostly, I’d want them to see how humility attached to hard work can accomplish great things.

Those are lessons we need to learn as individuals, and lessons that our leaders might want.