Humbled and Inspired


This column is not about leadership – at least not in any direct way.  It is about enabling and inspiring leadership.  It’s about the state police.  It’s possible that when you read “state police” the images that arise for you are not so pretty. It may be when you hear the words “state police,” your blood pressure spikes and hives pop up on your skin.  Been there!  However . . .

The most poignant, grief-filled moments of the last few days (Jennifer’s last as Governor) came for me when I said goodbye to Joe from “the Detail” and Tom who protected the Governor’s Residence.*  For eight years, every single day, I have seen the State Police – specifically, the Executive Protection Unit or the “Detail” as they are customarily called. Every one of those days, saw me.  And most important, they watched our governor vigilantly, literally 24-7. That is something in itself. In a world where each of us increasingly lives in our own individual spheres, these guys orbit. Their personal interests always come last. They skip lunch. They don’t take phone calls. They drop everything. They move anywhere. They work holidays. They pay attention. And they sustain the expectation that they might have to make the ultimate sacrifice. They do this, so that someone else can lead us.

That would be enough – a lesson in service and sacrifice.  But there was so much more. They kept confidences like million dollar safes. Compared to them I leaked like a spaghetti sieve. They asked for nothing ever. They saw us at our worst moments – teens being teens, spouses tensed, impossible schedules stressing everyone, and the bad news that kept raining on Michigan. Yet they were temperate.  Patient.  Professional. Yet human.

My kids learned respect from them. I learned it, too. When they called me “sir,” it was only right and appropriate to call them “sir” or “mam” in reply. When they opened doors, it made me want to open doors for others. Saying goodbye to them – our extended family – has made me wonder a lot:  What would workplaces and families be like if just sometimes we served each other like that? How might their kind of respect alter the way we work with others? In a society that obsesses over celebrity, power, influence, and showmanship, how might we elevate virtues of patience, service, and humility?

It’s so entirely clear that the MSP brand – “A proud of tradition of Service through Excellence, Integrity and Courtesy” – contributed greatly to our entire team.  They clearly helped us to:

Lead with our best selves,


*Names changed to protect the dutiful.

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  • Dan –

    Thanks for hearing such an inspiring picture of servant leadership. Best wishes for 2011 and well deserved time with family!


  • Hello Dan:
    I was humbled and truly inspired by this article. Too often when people see the humanity of their leaders they diminish their respect for those leaders…wrong thing to do. I also really liked the emphasis on not betraying confidences.

  • Dan,
    You are truly one in a million, always thinking about others. What a great example to your children!!!! You must have had great parents. You have such great compassion for others.
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Enjoy your day!

  • Dear Dan:

    This is one post that I simply HAD to comment on.

    When I think of the State Police, I think of the trooper who had to drive all the way from Brighton to help a frightened, but dumb, new mother “rescue” her toddler from the car that she’d locked herself in. Kind, resourceful, and understanding enough to NOT say “You should have known better,” even though I should have. He and I worked together to get the car unlocked without having to break a window… what an AWESOME guy!

    When I think of the State Police, I think of the trooper assigned to watch the crowd when President George H.W. Bush made a visit to Holly. My daughter, no longer a toddler, was a Girl Scout and had a “special” invitation to welcome the President. I had no sitter for my toddler son, but I couldn’t let my daughter miss this opportunity. After hours of holding my young son to prevent him from being trampled by the crowds, my arms were shaking and tears of pain were running down my face. We couldn’t go backwards or forwards, as the train had just come into town.

    Without ever ONCE taking his eyes off the crowd he was assigned to watch, a nearby trooper calmly and patiently held my son for me, giving me a much needed break. He warned me at the outset, “Be ready to take him if anything goes down,” and I was. My son was enthralled, my daughter was ecstatic because mom wasn’t hurting anymore, and I will never forget the sight of that man, ever vigilant, holding my little boy.

    When I think of the State Police, I think of proud, dedicated, honorable, upstanding, decent individuals. People who epitomize the ideal of service to their fellow man. And I’ve taught my children that our law enforcement officers are there to PROTECT and serve not, as others feel, to harass.

    Thank you so much for this post. It reminded me of those two fine gentlemen who both exemplified what I’ve always felt about our law enforcement officers – that they deserve the utmost respect and gratitude from us, the public that they protect.

    ~~Nancy Krempa~~
    PS – Yes, I’ve gotten richly deserved tickets from several different branches of law enforcement. That does not color my view in the LEAST.

    • Nancy,
      Wow. Those are powerful stories. Imagine if we all acted a little more like that? Hard not to think: this is the story of the Good Samaritan, told in a modern setting. Yet anyone can play that role.
      Thanks for sharing!

  • That must of been really sad to have to say good-bye for good after 8 years. I wish the governor and you luck on the future and Happy Birthday. So, they really opened the doors for you.

  • I loved the movie “Dave” with Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. Probably the most touching scene in that film was toward the end, when the Secret Service agent, played by Ving Rhames, said good-bye to Dave and tells Dave that even though Dave wasn’t the real president, he’d have given his life for him. I’m sure that anyone who protects a governor, president, other official, or everyday citizen knows that while the possibility is remote, the worst could actually happen. The shooting death of the deputy sheriff near Springfield, Ohio over the weekend reminds us of that. I know that the bond between an elected official in the U.S. and their security personnel is a special one.

    A friend of a friend was in the Secret Service, and actually served presidents going back to JFK. He frequently protected children of the presidents. Now, almost 50 years after JFK was in office, he still will not talk about the activities of any president or his family. Another assurance that these good people take their jobs very seriously.

    Thanks to our law enforcement officers and all who serve us.

  • Dan Mulhern, I thank God for you. For the person you are, for the insight you gave me into the governor and your family and for your consistent ‘high ground.’

    May God richly bless you and the family as you continue to serve Him.

  • Well said! I think if most people even noticed those qualities (patience, service, humility) in others we’d make great strides as human beings. In an age where giving money or serving others in some way is sometimes viewed with suspicion (and sometimes rightfully so!) it’s so good to hear of examples of ordinary people just ‘doing their jobs’ with professionalism and caring. There certainly IS valor in that and it is great to have it recognized, especially by those who are being served! It shows that you are a true leader! Best of luck to you and your family as you head into the next ‘chapter’ of your lives.

  • What a wonderful way to start the new year! Thanks for sharing the story of the Michigan State Police. Though most of us don’t have your direct experience, I certainly can relate to the idea of all the people who support leaders in what seem to be small ways – and without whom the rest of us would be a mess.

  • Dan,
    The fact that you have been “humbled and inspired” by the service rendered to you is a powerful indication of your qualities as a person and leader. One of the things I count as a real blessing in my life is the time I have been exposed to you, your seminar leadership and your writings. This past couple of years I have been served by many; friends as well as total strangers. I have been cared for by people I will probably never see again who performed most unpleasant tasks and when I apologized for the fact that my medical condition made them necessary would tell me, “Don’t apologize for that, it’s what I’m here for! Do you need anything else?” And they often said it with a huge smile and a caring pat on the hand or shoulder.

    That in the midst of the life you’ve been called to lead over the past decade you are present to and aware of this aspect of service tells volumes about who you are.

    Happy New Year with Peace and Possibilities for you and Jennifer,
    Mike O’Neill

  • Dan,

    A great tribute! I have always held the Michigan State Police in the highest regard! They are the most professional law enforcement personnel I have ever come into contact with. Their demaeanor and civility towards the public and their disiciplined and extraordinary appearnce while in uniform are unmatched. I hope the MSP never allows itself to wander from that decorum.

  • Dan,
    I do look forward to your blog posts on leadership although unfortunately sometimes I get too busy to read each of them in a timely manner. But I am so glad I took the few minutes to read this post. It was a wonderful testimonial not only to the professionalism of the State Police but also to the value and impact of informal leadership roles. Having the title of boss or captain or CEO does not always reflect the values of leadership nor do those folks always have the real power to change. People in organizations know who the leaders are,the folks who have real influence and often they are in roles without the titles. Nice post. Kudos to the state police.
    Happy New year and best wishes for new adventures in the years ahead.

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