My goal with the leadership column is to create a bridge between the up and coming cultural creatives and entrepreneurs driving the Baltimore Renaissance and established leaders who have made an impact in the world. We have much to learn from each other.
The 6th Branch (T6B) is a nonprofit organization utilizing the leadership and organizational skills of military veterans to execute aggressive community service initiatives at the local level. Dave Landymore is the Executive Director of The 6th Branch.
What does it take to get 3 huge dumpsters, truckloads of tools, and 300 volunteers to show up on a cold winter day and get dirty?
Our resource is our narrative and all the volunteers who choose to serve with us. It starts with a story. Come serve with military veterans who have served their country, and continue to serve in their communities.
Grab a shovel is our brand of service. You can only do so many things, so everything we do is done purposefully. Grab a shovel; pitch into something that you know is right. Pitch into a mission that you can’t argue with.
I think what we do is provide people a venue, to do what they like to do in the first place. We provide people a venue for their own philanthropy, which occurs internally to them. If you want to think of us as having a product, one of our products is making it really easy for people to serve in areas and ways that they want to. I think people feel safe serving with us. And people want to perform their service where it is needed — distressed neighborhoods. It’s not hard to look around Ambrose Kennedy Park and notice how much there needs to be done. We’re trying to find a balance between revitalizing neighborhoods and keeping volunteers satisfied.
What drew you to The 6th Branch?
Rich Blake is the spiritual leader of The 6th Branch. Meeting him the first time, he told me things about myself that I didn’t know. When discharged from the Marines (2010) I started school (UMBC) with the GI Bill and volunteered a lot. A staff member from one of the UMBC programs I volunteered at had just encountered a 6th Branch board member doing outreach. She recommended T6B to me. Talk about serendipity! I looked at their website; hit the contact button, sent an email, and three minutes later heard back from Rich Blake, T6B founder, co-board chairman and my predecessor as Executive Director. Two days later we’re having a beer at the Americana. Rich was 10 months from completing his doctoral training (Psychology) and leaving Baltimore to go back into the Army as a Psychologist. Meeting him the first time, he told me that I had moved from one volunteer job to another because I hadn’t found what I was looking for. That what I didn’t find was an acknowledgement of a certain soft-skill set that I had left in the Military. A leadership skill set. Everyone had asked me to serve. No one asked me to lead. That’s what I found at T6B. An innate need (to lead) put into practice.
It’s hard not to believe him when he tells you that you can do something. Even from 3500 miles away he is the leader of T6B. He’s a good friend and a phenomenal person.
What’s a leader’s job?
The first step is to be able to get people to follow you. There’s a difference between a leader and a doer. Doers charge audaciously forward and then look back to see who’s following…without incentive. Leaders make people want to share the task. Leaders convert followers into fellow visionaries who accept the mission as their own.
I try to help people see what I see and how I arrived at the vision. I want people to understand the context. Context is a big thing with me. The more information people have, the better equipped they’re going to be to adopt the mission for their own rather than just helping me out.
Does being a marine influence your leadership style?
We’re project based. We have four or five ongoing projects. When I left the Marines I was a Platoon Sergeant. I was all about logistics. So, when I approach a project I approach it the same way I would a Military mission. That’s the broad scope. When I address a group of volunteers I address them the same way I used to address my platoon, for better or for worse. When I assign roles it’s the same way.
The context in which we serve—we’re rebuilding Baltimore—I think everybody can feel a certain energy in Baltimore now. We’ve seen the worst and there’s positive energy to this…renaissance.
I served in Iraq in 2008 and we were far past blowing stuff up and destroying cities. It was a rebuilding phase, a nation building affair. Again, in broad strokes, T6B does our mission—community building—the same way that we approached nation building abroad. It’s working with community leaders. Finding out what’s important and having an intelligent response to what’s possible and what’s not. That’s the essence of our service.
Where do you draw the line?
Speaking as a representative of T6B I will do absolutely anything that is productive and sustainable to create a better set of circumstances for the residents of the Baltimore East Side neighborhoods in which we work. However, I won’t choose to live people’s lives for them. People have to live their own lives. People have to have the will. I won’t be responsible for the decisions people make. We can inform those decisions as best we can and provide an environment that’s as positive as possible. With this farm project we can grow food, provide it for free, distribute it, deliver it, and even provide information on how to prepare it. We can’t impact people’s free will. It’s hard to draw that line, but it is a line.
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