Buck’s List

An empathetic leader empowered an entire community for decades

John Warner
Control Your Destiny

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The Saturday Market in downtown Greenville, SC — Image by the author

One of the least appreciated elements of outstanding leadership is empathy for others — the ability to connect with people and understand their needs and desires before asking for anything from them. Most people are hungry for validation from someone they respect. The creative culture that feeds that hunger launches people into pursuing their passions with gusto.

I was a tiny spectator in one of the most enduring lessons in leadership in my life. A renowned business leader, Buck Mickel, was the former CEO of the global construction company Fluor Daniel. My grandfather was a plumbing foreman who worked for Daniel for many years.

As a small child, I remember the intimidation my grandfather felt when I joined him on a visit to Buck with a request. We waited nervously in the lobby. When Buck saw my grandfather, he grabbed him like an old friend saying,

Furman, don’t you ever come up here again and wait like that. If you need something, come on in to see me.

While I do not know if my grandfather got what he wanted, I do remember the elation he experienced for several days.

In the weeks following Buck’s death in 1998, business leaders in the community would relate similar stories about going to visit Buck and leaving his office not only with his support for their projects, but the feeling they were the best people to accomplish them. In small chats around coffee pots, administrative assistants would talk about special complements he had paid them. Few realized that conversations like these were occurring all over town and all across the country among community leaders, secretaries, and plumbing foremen whom Buck had understood and inspired to accomplish things great and small by validating them and making them feel special.

Years later, a group of Greenville community leaders came together in an initiative called Vision 2025, to begin to build a community consensus around what it would take for us to be successful. The inspiring analogy for Vision 2025 was “Buck’s list,” about ten community projects written in red ink he always carried with him in his wallet. He continually looked for ways to empower people who could advance one of these projects.

The renaissance in Buck’s local community of Greenville is so incredible that other communities regular make intercity visits to study how it happened. When we thought back, it was amazing how many community foundations, from one of the best urban parks in America to one of the country’s best off Broadway theatres, had been on “Buck’s list.”

After Buck left us, the charge of Vision 2025 was that knowing there would not be another Buck Mickel, now it was up to all of us collectively to follow Buck’s example not only in supporting for the projects of passionate champions in our community, but validating and inspiring them that they are the best people to accomplish these critical projects to create our future.

The Reedy River in downtown Greenville, SC — Image by the author

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John Warner
Control Your Destiny

Serial entrepreneur sharing 40 years of insights to control your destiny in our turbulent times