UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Gander: Leading means putting others before yourself

East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander, in his 18:83 Speaker Series talk, embraces philosophy of servant leadership

East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander addresses attendees as part of UND’s 18:83 Speaker Series. Joe Banish/UND Today.

Emphasizing the traits of competence, kindness and candor, East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander outlined his leadership journey last week in an on-campus address.

Gander’s speech was the latest in UND’s 18:83 Speaker Series; the talks take place each Wednesday afternoon at the Memorial Union’s Social Stairs. The series has hosted both on and off-campus leaders, who time their speeches at 18 minutes and 83 seconds to coincide with the university’s founding year.

Gander – also a practicing optometrist and owner of Opticare Forks Vision Clinic – said that learning is sequential, and leaders must constantly be on the lookout for new sources of knowledge.

“No one person can tell you everything you need to know to succeed,” he said. “But if you listen to enough people – really wise people – and apply discernment to what you hear, you will have what you need to excel in life.”

Gander has embraced the philosophy of servant leadership – valuing the success of his subordinates and organization over his own.

“Those who will find joy in life have figured out how to serve,” he said. “It really is fun – there is no greater joy than finding an effective way to serve people.”

Gander added that it is essential for servant leaders to embrace humility.

“I cannot serve from a point of arrogance,” he said. “I can only serve from a point of humility, where I say, ‘I regard you more highly than myself.’”

On the theme of candor, Gander advised attendees to keep their consciences clear, relaying an anecdote from his childhood about the importance of integrity.

“When I was 10 or 12 years old, I squatted in front of a roll of Life Savers on display at a grocery store,” he said. “I had my shoe appropriately loosened up to drop two rolls inside. I hobbled out of the store, and never got caught. Or did I? I knew about it, and it troubled me almost every day until I was 25 years old. Then I woke up and said, ‘wait a minute, I can fix this.’”

Gander rectified the situation by writing a letter of apology to the store’s owner, enclosing $40 “to cover the cost of the Life Savers, and a little something for interest.”

“I have never done anything in my life to take the piano off my back more than I did that day,” he continued. “I challenge you, if you have something gnawing at you and you can still fix it, just fix it. Don’t you want to live life and enjoy everything?”

On the subject of pursuing meaningful work, Gander offered five tenets of advice to consider when deciding if an endeavor is worth pursuing:

  • Love and serve God.
  • Love and serve people.
  • Decide according to your aptitude and abilities.
  • Do what you love to do.
  • Feed your family.

Gander opined that by adhering to the first four tenets, “the fifth one will take care of itself.”

Gander concluded his address by citing a metaphor from Nelson Henderson, a former Scottish publisher and rugby player, on the importance of selflessness: “the true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

“Let’s do that every day,” he said. “You can think of a tree as 30 years, but you can also plant a tree that someone can sit under in a minute. Some of you do this all the time – you pay for the person behind you in line or hold the door for somebody. Just those common things we can do from our humble heart of service to others.”

After a break for the Thanksgiving holiday, the 18:83 Speaker Series will resume on Wednesday, Nov. 29, with an address from Rob Brooks, associate director of bands at UND.

Audience members gather to hear East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander’s address, part of UND’s 18:83 Speaker Series. Joe Banish/UND Today.