Servant Leadership on a Marble Floor

“Leadership involves unselfishness. Leadership involves humility. Leadership involves a focus on the needs of our communities, not ourselves.”

Buck Lewis
Larry Wilks Distinguished Practitioner in Residence
Institute for Professional Leadership
The University of Tennessee College of Law

I wish I knew Andrew Kim.  Andy was born in Boston to Korean immigrant parents. While in college, he was an intern at the U.S. Agency for International Development.  He received a Rhodes Scholarship and a Harry S. Truman Scholarship to study international relations at Magdalen College at Oxford.  He worked at the U.S. State Department and served in Afghanistan as a civilian advisor to Generals David Petraeus and John R. Allen.  He was elected to Congress in 2018. The first bill he introduced was designed to lower prescription drug costs by opening up the market for generic versions of expensive drugs  

In the midst of the dizzying avalanche of news and images from the first full week in this new year, I was stopped in my tracks by a photograph of Andrew Kim cleaning up debris and personal belongings strewn across the floor of the Rotunda in the early morning hours of January 7, 2021.  Unlike many of his colleagues, Congressman Kim was in his office in a different building when the Capitol building was breached.  So he didn’t actually see the damage until almost midnight.  When he finally did walk around the Rotunda, he saw water bottles, broken furniture, tattered flags, pieces of body armor, and clothing strewn on the marble floor as if it was an abandoned parking lot.  His visceral reaction was to crouch down on his knees and fill trash bags with debris for the next hour and a half.  When he finished cleaning up the Rotunda, he began working on the adjacent rooms, including Statuary Hall and the Capitol Crypt downstairs.  He then returned to the House floor to debate Pennsylvania’s vote count in a session that lasted until 3:00am. By then, he had been awake for more than 36 hours.  

That picture of him, alone on his knees in a suit and tie with glasses and mask, handling debris from who-knows-where with his bare hands, moved me to tears.  So many people last week were loud. Andy Kim was quiet.  So many people last week were combative. Andy was peaceful.  So many people last week sought publicity.  This Congressman had no idea anyone was watching.  So many people last week expected to be served. Andrew Kim’s first instinct was to drop to his knees and serve.  

When asked about what he did, he said, “It’s a room that I love so much – it’s the heart of the Capital, literally the heart of this country.  It pained me so much to see it in this kind of condition. I was just overwhelmed with emotion.  I feel blessed to have this opportunity as a son of immigrants to be able to serve in Congress.  Democracy to me is this place of opportunity that is affording me a chance to do something extraordinary.” Then, Andy reminded us, “We also need to recognize that how we get through is by seeing the humanity in each other.  There are ways we can have debates and disagreements but not resort to violence.”  

Our Institute for Professional Leadership strives to teach our future lawyers about servant leadership.  We preach to them that leadership involves sacrifice.  Leadership involves unselfishness.  Leadership involves humility.  Leadership involves a focus on the needs of our communities, not ourselves.  

I sure am glad we have a young leader like Andy on his knees on a marble floor to lift up  as a quintessential example of servant leadership.

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