One is the Key to Others

August 13, 2020

by Ken Shelton

Virtually all meaningful interactions in any field are one on one—either virtual/vicarious or up-close and personal. If you are not relating one on one, you may be one and done or one and gone. Or, you may be the one who is lost in the wilderness in need of someone to save you. This one-one-one principle is the basis for the parable of leaving the 99 to save the one.

One Marine Recruits 40 to Save 99 Children

When Flight 77 hit the Pentagon on 9/11, 2001, the supervisor of a daycare facility for children of parents who worked there was in a panic as she looked at the 99 children they needed to evacuate. Since there was no time to bundle them into carriers and strollers, many of them, including infants and toddlers, needed to be taken out in heavy cribs . . . one by one.

Just then one young Marine ran into the care center and asked what needed to be done. The director said, “We need to evacuate all these children, but I don’t know how we can.”

The Marine ran out, and the director thought, “Well, we are on our own.”

Two minutes later, the one Marine returned with 40 other Marines. Each one of them grabbed one crib with one young infant or child, and the rest started gathering up toddlers. The director and her staff then helped the Marines take all the children out of the center and to the park near the Potomac River. Once at the park, the Marines formed a circle with the cribs, like covered wagons, and inside this circle of cribs they put the infants and toddlers to keep them from wandering off. The 40 Marines then formed a perimeter around the children and remained there until the parents were notified and retrieved their children, one by one.

Why Seek the One?

On 9/11/2019, I was remembering 9/11/2001 and wondering: Why leave the 99 and seek after the 1? Why try to save any one person from burning and tumbling towers (symbolic of all perilous situations) at the inconvenience, expense, or risk of your own life?

After all, what CEO, manager, coach, quality control specialist or systems analyst—or for that matter, priest or president—would not be ecstatic with 99 percent?  Can’t we rightfully—and righteously—consider the 1 to be inconsequential attrition? With 99 sheep “in” the fold, why worry about or bother with seeking the 1 who is “out”?

Well, I suppose that those first responders and faithful field leaders who regularly leave their 99 and go out of their way to seek after and minister to the one person in need might say:

In my life, I have learned three important lessons:

1) It’s true what they say: No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care;

2) Nothing shows you care like being there, at their side, especially when they need you

3) Nothing shows the 99 that you care about them as much as when you assist or minister to the one, especially when the one is the last, least, lowest, littlest, lame, or lost.

All true leaders/shepherds, when prompted, voluntarily leave the 99 to search for, rescue, and minister to the one lost soul. Why? Because the one is the key to influencing all others!

Suffer and Perish or Reversal of Fortune

Those who are not true shepherds (counterfeit field leaders) will be satisfied, if not self-congratulatory, for achieving 99 percent—leaving the one to suffer, alone, and perhaps perish.

I say to them: beware. In this life, we may see extreme reversals of fortunefrom the lowest, last, least, poorest to first, best, highest, richest, greatest. As a former wrestler, I’m familiar with reversals (when you come from underneath and gain control on top of your opponent). As a high school wrestler, I experienced an extreme reversal of fortune—going from being pinned 10 consecutive times as a sophomore to losing only one match as a senior.

Some of the lowest and least in society encounter all sorts of prejudice, pride, intolerance, and persecution and suffer many cruelties and injustices at the hands of the prominent and powerful. However, you and I will see dramatic reversals of fortunes in the decade of the 2020s.

So, why bother with saving the one? We never know who the one may be or become. The lone or lost or lame person may be one of the top talents in the field, even though we may see him or her as an outcast or ordinary. As CS Lewis wrote: “There are no ordinary people (no peons, peasants, serfs or outcasts). You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses—to remember that the dullest person you talk to may one day be a creature whom you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

Real-Life Field Leaders

Of the many stories I could tell of field leaders who save the one, I share these two:

First, Oseola McCarty from Hattiesburg, Mississippi spent a lifetime washing, ironing and mending dirty clothes, including dirty cloth diapers. Her needs in life were simple. She lived in a small house and economized in every possible way, even cutting the toes out of shoes if they did not fit. Her pay over the decades was small, mostly in one dollar bills and change, but she tithed, saved consistently and one day donated $150,000—in $1 bills—to finance scholarships for poor black students at the University of Southern Mississippi. Local business leaders matched the $150,000. And, the $300,000 has helped dozens of poor students to improve their lives.

Second, on Friday, December 21, 2008, I was $5K short of making payroll and had other debts—resulting from two cases of affinity fraud and employee embezzlement (by a neighbor and a nephew). I decided to close my 30-year-old business. It was a painful decision, since all that I had worked so long and hard for would be lost. About 11 a.m. I was preparing to announce the closing, effective at noon, to my three remaining employees when into the office barged a big man, John Hewlett, who told me in his loud voice that he had driven from Montana to see me and that he felt inspired to give me $5,000 immediately! His $5,000 enabled me to stay in business long enough to sell some assets and continue working to this day.

Again, why save the one? In the higher math and calculus of the universe, 1 is not next to zero or nothing but a potential hero, whose soul is of great worth, equal, in eternity, to infinity.

All it takes is one true shepherd to bring the light, add the salt, leaven the loaf—and over time, this search and rescue will yield exponential returns on investment and extreme reversals.


Ken Shelton served as editor/publisher of Leadership Excellence magazine for 30 years, ghost writer for Stephen R. Covey on 7 Habits, author of Field Leadership, and recipient of the Global Leadership Excellence Award. Ken can be conacted via his website: