Mayberry Style Leadership

August 18th, 2011
Image © jimmywayne | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

As a kid I loved reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, which was considered required after school viewing in the small North Carolina town where I grew up. People liked the show (and they still do) because it reminded them of a simpler, more innocent time in their lives. That, and the show was just plain funny.

At the time, I mentally divided the show into two eras, the black and white episodes and the color episodes, which also happened to be, respectively, the ones with Andy’s deputy Barney Fife (portrayed by Don Knotts) and the ones without him. Most people today consider the black and white episodes to be the funniest, and some folks won’t even watch the color episodes. A few years ago, a few television stations that were running the show in syndication even took the unusual step of “decolorizing” the color episodes because they didn’t want ratings to drop when they aired them. I enjoyed both groups of episodes, but almost considered them two separate shows—I found it practically impossible to compare them as apples to apples.

The more I think about it, however, the more I realize that The Andy Griffith Show was really three shows, not two, and the differences between the show’s eras had less to do with Barney and Technicolor than with Andy himself. I’ve come to the conclusion that Andy Griffith portrayed three different Andy Taylors over the course of the show’s run:

  • Season 1: The lovable and funny Southern rustic
  • Seasons 2-5: The good-natured, wise sheriff surrounded by wacky supporting characters, a sage-like figure
  • Seasons 6-8: The more solemn, somewhat irritable sheriff who seemed worn out by the rest of the town’s antics

While each “era” of Andy had its ups and downs, the show really seemed hit its sweet spot during Seasons 2-5. This was somewhat by design, as Andy Griffith realized after the first season that he could only get so much mileage out of the “aw shucks” country shtick. He found that he could actually be funnier by not being quite as funny. Here’s why: The real chemistry on the show was when Andy played straight man to the rest of the cast—the voice of reason, the parental figure. Andy’s character didn’t create his own messes, he got everyone else out of theirs, and it made for hilarious television.

But then later on, with the departure of Don Knotts and changes in the writing team, Andy became almost too serious. The chemistry wasn’t there anymore. Ratings were as high as ever and the show still possessed a certain charm, but looking back, most Andy Griffith Show purists recognize that something was missing in the last three seasons. Andy Griffith eventually became bored and left the show at the end of the eighth season, and the rest of the cast continued the show under the title Mayberry, R.F.D. (the fourth era!)

There are leadership lessons to be learned here. Imagine that The Andy Griffith Show is a church, and Andy Griffith is the pastor. Season 1 represents a church whose pastor tries to go beyond his calling or gifting to fit a certain expectation. Seasons 2-5 would portray a pastor who has realized that the healthiest church is one that has an ensemble cast where everyone’s strengths come together and offset everyone’s weaknesses, rather than a vehicle to propel one “star” forward. Finally, the later seasons represent a pastor who is either coasting on past successes or has become burned out or cynical. This pastor’s church might go on for years, but it’s going to die (get canceled!) sooner or later, or become irrelevant or impotent, which is essentially the same as dying.

The most effective church is the one that finds its seasons 2-5 (wise leadership with teamwork mentality and a good staff chemistry) and stays there.


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