Service Above Self and Ethical Leadership

This month’s column was inspired by my teenage daughter’s enthusiasm following a recent Midlothian Youth Council Leadership session on ethical leadership led by Chief Carl Smith of the Midlothian Police Department. I sat down with the Chief eager to hear more about the leadership lessons that engaged even busy high school students. With a challenge coin on the table framing the discussion, Chief Smith explained that he joined the Department in 2007 with a goal of rebranding the organization through collaboration with the officers and administrative team to develop a mission, shared values, and a moto to lead the organization.

The mission statement developed into dedication “to delivering police services in partnership with our community to keep Midlothian the safest place to live, work and visit.” As Chief Smith explains, the officers are the arm of the community with the training and authority to step in and create resolution when conflict arises. Although officers are trained in a team environment, Chief Smith believes that each officer must appreciate that every time he or she steps into an environment, the officer immediately becomes the most powerful person in the setting. The officer must know how to use that authority and have the maturity to de-escalate very dangerous situations. In the highest-stress environments, officers must bring calm and objective perspective to find solutions.

Although the department agreed on nine core values, three were added to the Department’s challenge coins: integrity, commitment, and courage. Integrity, the hallmark of ethical leadership, is critical when an officer is empowered to detain, arrest, use force, even take a life under the color of law. In hiring and training officers, Chief Smith emphasizes the importance of making sure recruits fully understand the power to ruin a person’s life and to cause him to incur enormous amounts of money fighting to save a reputation. The officers must show commitment is to quality. Courage means facing adversity and danger with valor and fortitude to ensure the safety of those whom the officers are sworn to protect

“Service above Self” emerged as the Department motto. Proposed by an officer who had recently returned from Afghanistan, the words resonated with the entire department. A later presentation by Chief Smith to the Midlothian Rotary revealed that the very same motto had long guided the Rotarians. Perhaps recognizing the benefit of having the motto to inspire service throughout another organization, the local Rotary Club applauded the choice by the police department.

As we edge closer to the end of my term as Chair, and I reflect on a year filled with challenges and opportunity for growth, I realize that individually and as a chamber leader I have much to learn from those words: service above self. We regularly frame leadership discussions around how “the Chamber” can best serve the membership, but the service comes not from the Chamber as a thing, a place, or an entity. It comes from the real people: staff, members, volunteers, community partners, you, and me.

More than thirty members served many long and thoughtful hours developing the three core strategic directions guiding us today to create value, build capacity, and engage and impact the community. Many more opportunities to serve remain in the implementation of those strategies. The Chamber is the community that happens when real people connect to serve and help each other thrive in business and in life. Those acts of “service above self” pay back in ways we will never adequately capture in our member benefit packet, but we hope you will give it a try.

Stronger Together and Leading with Strengths

After years behind the camera photographing weddings, chamber member Melissa Shook wanted a better way to share her talents with other business owners and to give her weekends back to her young family. With years in the business, Melissa recognized that the bridal business had shifted to an industry where referrals came more from other vendors than from the brides themselves.

Outgoing and naturally talented at meeting new people, Melissa realized that she could help more reserved wedding vendors learn to build new relationships in fun settings. In January 2017, Melissa started Southern Wedding Professionals to create networking opportunities for individuals and businesses serving the wedding industry. Melissa likens her business to a chamber of commerce for wedding professionals.

Relying on her talents for hard work and achievement, Melissa hosted her first industry networking event in January 2017, planned and delivered her first bridal event a little over a year later, and in August 2018, launched her magazine The Southern Social. The magazine launch party (hosted by chamber member Firefly Gardens, which graced the front cover) was a celebration of Melissa’s passion for connecting wedding professionals and educating brides.

Melissa put together the first edition herself to demonstrate her own capabilities in graphic design and knowledge of the industry. Future editions will include input from many others. A collaborator at heart, Melissa plans to engage her advertisers in the development of the magazine content. While other publishers keep their magazines under wraps until the reveal, Melissa offers transparency and engagement for the businesses featured in the pages. They will see digital proofs to ensure they won’t be disappointed when the print edition lands.

Melissa also wants the magazine to offer brides education about budgeting, vendor selection, and planning. By teaching brides how to find the right match in vendors for their style, budget, and personality and sharing the values of honesty and openness in the selection process, Melissa hopes the magazine can help ensure a positive experience for both brides and vendors.

The desire to build connections that led Melissa to form her business also caused her to get involved with the Midlothian Chamber of Commerce. A graduate of Leadership Midlothian, Melissa put her energy and love of small business into action to chair a very successful Midlothian Marketplace in March 2018. Melissa continues to look for opportunities through the Chamber to support, encourage, and mentor other business owners, while humbly seeking the same for her rapidly growing business.

The recent flooding that unfortunately impacted many of our chamber members took the metaphor further than we hoped, but the “high tide lifts all boats” theme continues to drive Chamber members like Melissa. Just as Southern Wedding Professionals set the tone for competitive wedding vendors to connect and support others in their industry to succeed, the Midlothian Chamber aspires to offer the same supportive culture for all our members.

One great example of collaboration is the Chamber’s partnership with the City of Midlothian and Reach Council to teach strength-based leadership to Midlothian students with help from board member Jennifer Wilson, our education committee, and many community leaders. Take a cue from these generous leaders, look around and lift a hand, or take a hand, and let’s all agree that together we are stronger.

Faith, Family, And Fall

A shared faith and love for two fall icons – family and celebration – inspired neighbors Dale and Amber Knott and Layne and Sarah Nunes to open Shadow Creek Pumpkin Farm last year. Fortunate to own property with a beautiful shady grove at the southern edge of Midlothian, the neighbors wanted to offer other families a farm experience complete with pig races, petting zoos, antique tractors, a corn maze, and of course lots of pumpkins. With the invitation to “start your fall family traditions here,” the owners are purposeful in their mission to involve and serve the community through partnerships with local schools and nonprofits and employment opportunities for students.

Having written about several large or long-established organizations for these columns, I was interested to hear how Shadow Creek had progressed in development of its values. I learned the values that guide the organization were established long before Shadow Creek became a twinkle in founder Layne’s eye. As Amber shared, the core values guiding their young business trace to the common faith shared by the two families. The four partners agree first and foremost that nothing truly belongs to them individually. Rather, they are blessed to be able to share Shadow Creek with the community for the glory of God.  As a result, selfishness and greed among the owners has never been a concern.

Another value that guides the business is the conviction that the farm’s success results from allowing each of the four owners to contribute based on their individual giftedness. The son of an FFA teacher, Dale grew up on a farm in Lubbock and understands all aspects of the farming operation, including the livestock and crops.  Amber’s love for people and communication landed her the roles of social media, marketing, and building relationships with community partners.  With her teaching background and organizational skills, Sarah manages the employees (who are mostly youth) and handles payroll and other administrative matters. Layne brings his background in business to help the team see the vision of where they are going as well as how to get there. Recognizing that a successful business could only have one chief, the owners easily agreed that Layne would serve in that role.  While the partners each offer input on important matters, they trust Layne to make the final decision.

As Shadow Creek enters its second season September 29th, the business listened to feedback from visitors and adjusted its pricing and layout based on that input.  The farm looks forward again to offering employment opportunities to around 30 people, including many young students working their first job.  To ensure a successful work experience, the owners work hard to set clear expectations and establish structures for the students.  Not surprisingly, the best lessons learned on the farm included developing a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility.

Partnerships with other businesses and nonprofits will continue through the second season. The farm again plans to partner with a local nonprofit every day it is open, with members volunteering to earn donations for their group.  FFA students will host the petting zoo and offer hourly educational animal spotlights. Students in the FCCLA program will offer story times for younger students on field trip days and a scavenger hunt to build literacy.  Shadow Creek will make financial contributions to the chapter at the end of the season. As Dale explained, Shadow Creek measures its success, not in dollars, but by how well the farm creates an atmosphere that reminds the leaders, employees, and customers that something bigger is behind the joy.

As we look forward to our annual Chamber auction on September 29th, we too hope our success is reflected, not just by dollars raised for valuable programs, but in the relationships strengthened during a night of fun and appreciation for our members.  Get your tickets now!

Coaching and Connecting to Bring the Party

The joy of children and a desire for more family time inspired Billy and Leigh Fields to take the courageous move sixteen months ago to form their business Cowboy Party Rentals. Watching their young children enjoy bounce house parties, the couple recognized a need for a premium rental company that offered a safe and reliable local option for families and community members. Although the couple started with just four inflatables, their homegrown company now offers over sixty inflatables, along with tents, tables, chairs, snow cone and margarita machines, and much more for weddings, parties, and other special events. The company was built around “serving others and providing them with the rental experience that they deserve.”

Although the company is young, several core leadership and service values have framed its commitment to being a quality rental company. Borrowing from their backgrounds teaching and coaching sports, Billy and Leigh believe in mentoring their employees, who are typically high school seniors or college students. Although the employees do much of the delivery, set up, and cleaning of the equipment, Billy regularly helps with the hard labor, modeling for the employees that he is part of the team and willing do the same work as them. When hiring, Leigh looks for students who have been actively involved in sports, fine arts, or other extracurricular activities, believing those activities prove the students have the ability and discipline to manage their time well. Employees are expected to be courteous, detail-oriented, friendly, and fun. As Leigh explains, “we are bringing the party” and want to make sure clients and guests have a great time.

Safety and reliability are also core values adopted by Cowboy Party Rentals to distinguish its premium services. By offering higher wages, the company is able to attract and retain employees who understand and uphold those same values so that the rental equipment is delivered on time and set up with all the proper safety features. Hospital grade cleaners are used to disinfect the equipment after every use. With young children of their own, Billy and Leigh often find themselves saving the day when out of town rental companies fail to show up for events. Leigh explains that Billy especially can’t stand to think of a kid missing out on the bounce house or water slide he or she was expecting. Now handling rental needs for medium-sized weddings, the company understands the importance of keeping commitments to customers on their big days.

Another value the company holds is the broader commitment to community. Although Leigh and her family have deep roots in Midlothian, the business has provided the family the opportunity to connect with many of the new faces in town. In addition to helping make birthday parties fun for kids of all ages, the couple wanted to serve the schools, businesses, and nonprofits in the area. Bringing the fun to chamber events like the recent Wine and Arts Festival, school field days across the district, and church gatherings has allowed the family to build strong connections across our rapidly-growing community, keeping the small town feel that Leigh remembers growing up.

Connection is the key to culture and a fitting name for our chamber newsletter. As the chamber businesses, we each have the ability to enable and enhance the connections that make our community thrive. Join us later this summer for the legislative series where you can connect with business leaders and elected officials on important governance issues for our community.

Community Stories Shared with Trust and Compassion

person holding white and blue business paper
Photo by nappy on



Getting involved with the chamber makes you appreciate the diversity of our members and the important role they each play in creating the community we love. Over lunch at the newly-opened White Rhino Coffee House in Waxahachie, I reversed roles to interview Travis Smith and Ashley Ford, two of the local reporters who bring to life the stories published on the pages of the Waxahachie Daily Light and the Midlothian Mirror. 

 You will see Travis, Ashley, or Andrew capturing with pen and lens almost every ribbon-cutting, chamber event, achievement in our schools, and the heartbreaks that hit our community. I was curious to hear more about the leadership values and ethics that guided the business of reporting the news.

 Travis, who serves as the managing editor for both papers, explains that the core values of community, trust, and compassion inspire their work. Ashley adds that dedication to the community drives her passion for storytelling. While Travis grew up in Waxahachie, Ashley moved here to work for the paper after college. Both agree that genuinely caring about the people in the community is the key to success. Access to the important stories requires the reporters to build trust in and with the community. They do that by showing up for the small things and appreciating that everyone in the community has their own goals for what the paper should be and how it can share the stories that matter. 

The trust comes from telling quality stories that reflect compassion and dignity for individuals who are willing to share deeply personal experiences. Recognizing that the people in the stories on their pages are the same neighbors they run into at the baseball field and in the shops around town helps build that compassion. Mindful also of the need to remain relevant in the world of instant tweets and posts, Travis and Ashley have worked hard to bring stories with depth to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. As journalists, they are bound by rules of ethics that set their reporting apart from less-restrained sources of “news” that hit our feeds in 140 characters or less. 

Watching others make mistakes has helped Travis appreciate that the power of the pen must be constrained by humility. While negative headlines get the most reads, he explains that community papers also have to help build bridges and share inspiring stories of people making a positive difference — like Ashley’s recent series on the top graduates. As stories develop, the reporters hold each other accountable to the shared values and code of ethics to ensure the paper’s brand remains credible and unbiased. By giving a voice to those who don’t have one, chasing multiple sources (and all sides) to make sure the story is right, and owning up to and correcting mistakes when made, the team hopes to help build a better community.

I was glad to hear Travis share how the chamber helps make a better paper. He explains that the chambers are the foot in the door to the businesses that are the actual pulse of the community. Chamber staff members have the “in” on everything and are a reliable resource to get connected to anyone in the community. Those connections made through chamber events create the personal relationships that fuel the trust, community, and compassion values. 

Give the chamber a chance to fuel your values and let our community reporters tell your story. And follow both on social media for the real stories that build deeper connections and a better community.