When several collaborators from Peru came to our laboratory this week to find out more about what we were doing with their data, some folks on our project seemed a little irritated to have to devote so much time to the meetings. But "Bill" took it in stride.
As the meetings began, Bill made sure to ask our visitors, "We are very grateful that you have come so far and we want to make sure that your visit is as worthwhile as possible. What do you hope to take away from these meetings?" Attentively and deliberately, he was giving them control. He was positioning us as "servants" to their needs.
Earlier, the question had arose about what we should do at lunchtime. Should we all pay for ourselves? Should we try to charge the lunch to our project budget? Bill was emphatic. "They are our guests. We will treat them." Ultimately, he treated all of us from his own money. Again, his actions bespoke a servanthood towards our collaborators.
On a technical level, the meetings were very helpful. But perhaps the most important things that I learned were from Bill's example. If I am ever in his position, towards the front a meeting with international visitors, I will try to follow his example.