Thumbnail Image of the Servant Leadership 101 Thorough Principle Example. It shows a scene fro the movie Erin Brockovich, with Erin (Julia Roberts) in the background. Ben stands in the foreground. At the top is the title Servant Leadership. At the bottom is the subtitle Thorough.

Servant-Leadership 101: Thorough Lesson (Erin Brockovich Movie Example)

The last principle in the Acronym Model of SERVANT-Leadership® is Thorough. This 6-minute lesson demonstrates the Thorough principle, through the example of Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts). Erin Brockovich was an unemployed, single mother of 3 children, who, in 1993, discovered that Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) was lying to residents and employees while poisoning their drinking water. Through her persistence and tenaciousness, Brockovich, who had no formal legal education at the time, champions the case against PG&E.  Brockovich and the legal team that is eventually built around her incredible work, wins a massive victory for hundreds of people sickened or killed by the carcinogens the company lost into their drinking water.

This scene exemplifies the servant-leadership principle of being Thorough. In it, we see Brockovich offended by the implication her research may be incomplete. A more experienced, larger law firm, brought into help try the case, has reviewed Erin’s work. One attorney notes that there are some “holes” to fill. At which point, Erin is challenged to remember a specific phone number from one of the hundreds of plaintiffs they represent. In a calm but firm tone, Brockovich not only recites the phone number, but also the members of the household, their medical history, their extended family, and their extended family’s medical history. It’s clear Erin Brockovich – both in this dramatization and in real life – demonstrate an amazing example thorough leadership.

If you or your organization could use support developing leaders, let’s talk!

MOVIE CREDIT
Erin Brockovich
Universal Pictures
January 23, 2007

Servant-Leadership Principle Reflection Questions on Thoroughness

  1. What problem or opportunity do you need to be more thorough about?
  2. What risk does the team or organization you lead risk, if your leaders are not thorough in their responsibilities?
  3. Who can you trust to call you out, when you’re not being thorough enough in your own responsibilities?

If you or your organization could use support developing leaders, let’s talk!

Full Video Transcript

Erin: Those are my files.

Theresa: Yeah, we had them couriered over. And listen, good work. They’re a great start. We’re just going to have to spend a little time filling in the holes in your research.

Erin: Excuse me, Theresa. Is it? There are no holes in my research.

Theresa: No offense. There’s just some things we need that you probably didn’t know to ask.

Erin: Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot, okay? I may not have a law degree, but I spent 18 months on this case. And I know more about these plaintiffs than you ever will.

Ben: In 1993. Many people around the small town of Hinkley, California, suffered from serious diseases, especially cancer. Few people understood what was happening until legal clerk Erin Brockovich, played here by Julia Roberts, began investigating the matter. A single mother with no formal legal education. Brockovich was not taken seriously by most people, especially Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), who was the suspected source of groundwater contamination and causing the diseases.

Ben: Brockovich worked relentlessly on the case. She met with hundreds of plaintiffs, getting to know them, their families and struggles. When her law firm partners with a much larger one to take the case forward, she is understandably frustrated. But the thoroughness of her efforts becomes very clear.

Kurt: PG&E has requested that we submit the binding arbitration.

Erin: What’s that?

Kurt: That’s where we try the case without a jury just before a judge. It’s called a test trial. The judge’s decision is final. There’s no appeal. How many plaintiffs do you have?

Erin: 634.

Kurt: They’ll never try that many all at once. So we need to get them together in groups of 20 or 30. Worst cases, the most life threatening, the sickest in the first group, and so on and so on. And each one gets to go before the judge to determine damages. PG&E has proposed that they’re liable anywhere between $50 and $400 million.

Erin: So wait a minute. Let me just get this straight.

Ed: If we went to trial, PG&E could stretch this over ten years with appeal after appeal, those people in Hinkley –

Erin: These people are expecting a trial. That’s what we told them. You and me, they won’t understand this.

Ed: Kurt thinks it’s the best way to go.

Kurt: Look, I promise you that we’ll be very sensitive on this point. We will make sure that they understand that this is the only way that we can go forward at this time. But we have a lot of work to do before we even broach that subject.

Theresa: You know what? Why don’t I take Erin down, so we can start on this stuff and I’ll fill her in.

Kurt: Thanks.

Erin: Those are my files.

Theresa: Yeah, we had them couriered over. And listen, good work. They’re a great start. We’re just going to have to spend a little time filling in the holes in your research.

Erin: Excuse me, Teresa, is it? There are no holes in my research.

Theresa: No offense. There’s just some things we need that you probably didn’t know to ask.

Erin: Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot, okay? I may not have a law degree, but I spent 18 months on this case. And I know more about these plaintiffs than you ever will.

Theresa: Erin, you don’t even have phone numbers for some of them.

Erin: Whose number do you need?

Theresa: Everyone’s. This is a lawsuit. We need to be able to contact the plaintiffs.

Erin: I said, whose number do you need?

Theresa: You don’t know the 600 plaintiffs numbers by heart…. ….Anabel Daniels.

Erin: Anabel Daniels. 714-454-9346, ten years old. 11 in May. Lived on the plume since birth. Wanted to be a synchronized swimmer. So she spent every minute she could in the PG&E pool. She had a tumor in her brainstem detected last November. An operation on Thanksgiving shrunk it with radiation after that. Her parents are Ted and Rita. Ted’s got Crohn’s disease.

Erin: Rita has chronic headaches and nausea and underwent a hysterectomy last fall. Ted grew up in Hinkley. His brother Robbie and his wife Mae, and their five children, Robbie, Junior, Martha, Ed, Rose, and Peter also lived on the plume. Their number is 454-9554. You want their diseases?

Ben: As a leader, we must strive to be thorough in our area of expertise. Now, when teaching this topic, I’m often challenged with the reality that many leaders cannot be experts in all the areas for which they are responsible. This is true. In such cases, though, we must know who is the expert. You need to have a trusted network of experts that you can work with who are so thorough.

Ben: It helps, too, if those experts can show a bit more empathy, even if their frustrations are well-deserved. Who is in your trusted network? Who do you go to for expertise that are so thorough in each area, when the time comes that you need that information? How are you making sure the leaders within your organization are thorough and have the right resources to be so thorough?

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Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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