James Robertson

How to Lead by Example – James Robertson’s Story

Engaging Curiosity and Creativity Through Kaizen 


Imagine a daily commute of 46 miles through one of Detroit, Michigan’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Now imagine it takes 9 hours per day just to get back and forth; for $10.50 per hour; 5 days per week. And oh, by the way? You are walking.

That’s the story of James Robertson, residing in Detroit. For ten years he has made this trudge through rain, snow, sleet, and hail. He starts walking to work at 8 AM for his 2 PM start time. He then ends his day catching a bus for the first 13 miles, and then around 1 AM , begins walking the last 8 miles home. He finally arrives home to see his family 3 hours later at around 4 AM. He’s been doing this for 10 years since his car broke down in 2005, and he decided he couldn’t afford to drive it given his current income level.

Walking Man James Robertson Ford

James’ courage and dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed. A local college student saw James’ story in a local newspaper and got inspired. So much so, that the student, Evan Leedy of Wayne State University, decided to start a Gofundme account to raise money to buy James a car.

2015 Taurus Ford Evan’s first goal of $5,000 got achieved. In fact, within one day, ten times that amount got raised by Evan’s goodness and the thousands of people who wanted to follow suit. But the story doesn’t end there; not by a long shot.

Upon seeing and experiencing Evan’s and others generosity within the internet community, a local car dealership then offered to give a new car to James. Upon hearing this generous offer, Ford Leadership stepped up, and offered to give a new 2015 Ford Taurus car.

The Huffington Post And where did Leedy get his idea to do good? He told the Huffington Post he got inspired by the leadership of Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton, who raised more than $1 million to send schoolkids from a crime-stricken neighborhood in Brooklyn on a trip to Harvard. See The Companion Story

Paying things forward has immeasurable benefits for leadership. And many times these unknowable events shape the lives of others. These incalculable donations to humanity don’t show on a balance sheet; don’t show as an asset, nor do they show as goodwill. While goodwill gets impaired when leadership fails, recognizing that paying things forward takes years and years of commitments by leaders to increase man’s intrinsic encouragement. Motivation that doesn’t come in a can, isn’t exclusively driven by money, and yet provides an exponential return when properly engaged.

Walking Man Shadow James’ courage did not go unnoticed. An ordinary citizen, inspired outside the workplace, chose to do something good for someone else; someone not looking or even asking for an extrinsic reward. Acts like Evans, and the thousands of others who donated to James’ worthy cause, are an inspiration to us all. Something leadership needs to pay much closer attention to.

Long-Road-in-Detroit Leadership has the minds, hearts, and souls of employees for at least 8-10 hours per day. For an average employer of 100 employees, that is a remarkable total of 208,000 working hours per year to do good, or do nothing. That’s 208,000 working hours when man’s mind could be engaged towards continuously improving, continuously disengaging, or looking for an exit on Monday, and the local bar on Friday. And if you happen to have the title Chief Executive Officer of a 1,000 employee company, there are millions of annual working hours each year where your actions as a leader could be put to the test each day to good or otherwise.

What we choose to do in our personal and professional lives matters. James, Evan, and thousands of others showed just how well leadership can leverage technology, man’s intrinsic motive, and material goods to improve the lives of others, and society. A great lesson for leaders looking to increase their employee’s intrinsic interest, so the rewards of doing good, can and do begin to show on the income statement and balance sheet, as well as within the mind’s of our current and future employees.

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