William Donald Schaefer, the colorful and effective former Mayor of  Baltimore and two-term Maryland Governor who died last week,  is being remembered fondly by the well-known and ordinary alike.   Schaefer was many things and among them a master of political customer service.

In a Washington Post article today by Marc  Fisher,  people whom he had touched in some way spoke warmly of him as they lined the streets to pay their respects.  There are lessons that all of us can learn from Schaefer whether you are a politician, a corporate executive, a PR practitioner,  or someone wearing a headset dealing with customer service calls.

Honesty counts.  People can take bad news as along as you are straight with them. As one person quoted in the article said  about Schaefer:  “He was honest, and he spoke his mind. A lot of people don’t like for you to be outspoken, but we appreciated it from him because we knew he was honest.”

Convey a Sense of Urgency.  Schaefer’s motto was “Do It NOW!”  He was impatient, he wanted to make things happen and he did.  He pushed people to work harder and faster, whether it was ensuring that Baltimore’s Inner Harbor got built, saving Lexington Market or fast tracking road construction projects that he called “Reach the Beach”  to cut the time to get to the state’s beaches by an hour.

Personal Touch Makes All the Difference.   The Post article quotes current Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley who described Schaefer as  “a man who was always impatient with excuses but had all the time in the world for a citizen who needed help.”  From arranging for a state trooper to drive a city worker to the hospital in a snowstorm to see her ailing mother and then writing a personal note when the mom died to helping the  mother of a Lexington Market shopkeeper get health insurance,  Schaefer took care of the big matters of state as well as the smaller matters of constituents.  By doing so, he engendered loyalty and trust that is so lacking today.

No one is perfect and Schaefer certainly had his faults. But he is and will be remembered as a good leader who could make the tough decisions, demaded excellence from everyone and had the common touch.  That is a winning combination in politics and business.

Photo Credit from Wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Donald_Schaefer