A Leadership Lesson From the Back of the Boat

This past weekend I went camping with some friends. We had a great time. One of the most memorable moments was our rafting trip down the Pine River. There were lots of laughs…especially when I was the first one to fall out. But the most noteworthy image that came out of the trip was, “You can’t steer from the middle.”

I was sitting at the rear of the raft, the position that steers the craft. In front and to the right of me was Aaron. He had canoeing experience and paddling skills because he was a boy scout, a detail he reminded us of jovially and repeatedly. When Aaron recognized we need to make directional changes he would try to steer. While his assessment was accurate and his actions were technically correct, they were often not helpful because of the position he was sitting in.

All this made me think of the situations I have been in, am in now and will be in in the future.

Even in organizational environments that encourage collaboration, most are structured for one person to steer; He has the final say. The buck stops with her. If you have been granted that position, be open to the input of those around you then communicate clearly where we’re going and what needs to be done. If you are sitting in another seat, offer your input then follow the instructions you are given. Over the last 27 years I have missed the mark and hit the sweet spot on both of these but I don’t think the lesson was ever more clear than Friday.

If you’ve been doing what you’re doing for any amount of time, chances are you can assess situations with wisdom and accuracy. Chances are you have mastered skills that are technically precise. But have you checked lately which seat you’re sitting in? I’m sitting in Aaron’s seat where I work…so I am confronted with a choice: stop trying to steer or find another boat to pilot.


What about you?


The Way I Remember It…

I have always resisted the urge to write a memoir. Other than a few chapters, my life has been pretty ordinary. What would I have to share? It is also intimidating for me to put my memories on paper because they are so subjective. How broad is the gap between what really happened and the way I remember it?

Ian Cron says, “Memoirists work with bones. Like paleontonloists, we dig up enough of them to make intelligent guesses about what a creature looked like a million years ago. But here and there a femur or rib is missing, so by faith, with imagination, we fill in those gaps with details we believe are consistent with the nature and character of our upbringing.”

If I were to give it a go, this would be an exerpt:

As I sat in my reading chair finishing up this week’s assignments my mind wandered 30 miles east and nearly 50 years back. Staring through the screen door I reflected, still in disbelief of all that had happened. There were no sounds of children or laughter or any of the ruckus that had become the soundtrack of my life for so many years. Only the music of indy crooners, the squeak of the rocker, and the hum of a Mercury light perched on the corner of my single car garage.

I am the product of World War II parents who were children of the depression. They deeply believed in God and country. My dad, Tom, grew up on a farm far from any city. He had a volatile relationship with his father who was a barrel chested man that came home regularly from card games with an empty wallet and an angry disposition fueled by cheap beer. Tom’s mother was the antithesis of her abusive husband. Short and saintly she was a humble servant to her family. My mother Joyce, grew up in the same community and was the daughter of a local farmer. Joyce Davis fell for Tom Harvey the minute he entered the drug store where she worked as a soda jerk. Tom had just returned from the China/Buhrma/India theater of the war and she knew that this was the man she would marry.

Life was simple in our home. Obedience was expected. Respect was essential. And church attendance was not negotiable. For most of Tom and Joyce’s four children, this formula worked quite well especially the youngest, me. I grew up with a strong sense of value and values. My goals were to get along with others, do my best to please God, and not to disappoint my doting parents.

Back in the rocking chair I could easily recall my parents’ faces but I struggled to hear their voices. I can’t reproduce the sound. I can’t help but wonder what they would say to their promising child who became a pastor but was not a pastor anymore. Who was viewed as successful but had to leave in embarrassment. Who made more visits to the courthouse than they ever dreamed of. Who was married to his college sweetheart but isn’t married to her anymore. Who seemed to have so many things going for him but isn’t sure he does anymore. Would they say anything? Would they still be proud?  Would they treat him the same even after his many failures.

It is not easy to live a life based in performance where you wonder if your every move is not only being evaluated, but impacting your position in God’s eyes. These were the things dancing with the shadows in the den that night.



A Lesson in Tenacity

I hit my threshold of office occupancy for this afternoon so I headed to the nearest Starbuck’s for an iced Americano and renewed inspiration. After getting my drink I took a seat on one of the soft chairs facing the windows. As I began to read I realized the woman sitting behind me is using this space as her coffice too. Rather than reading or typing she is making cold calls attempting to generate appointments.

Over and over her pleasant voice recites a version of the following script: “Hello, my name is Marie and I would like the opportunity to review your insurance coverage and see if you are getting the best coverage for your insurance dollar.” Over and over she makes her pitch with kindness. Sometimes she gets hung up on before she finishes her first phrase. Others wait until the end. I can tell some people give her excuses of why they aren’t interested or that they aren’t the right person to talk to. Her tone hasn’t changed. There is no discouragement in her voice. She doesn’t seem to take any rejection as personal. She just says “thank you,” and calls the next.

I don’t know if this is a new job, old job or whether or not this is her dream job. What I do know is that Marie is relentless…not in the high pressure sales way but rather in knocking on proverbial doors way. Somewhere along the line she decided that if she was going to sell insurance she was going to do the hard work of talking to people she doesn’t know, making contacts and chasing down leads.

There are a few things I’d like to give myself to in the last third of my life.

  • I want to love well.
  • I want to walk with leaders in ways that will facilitate health and longevity.
  • I want to help people exchange caricatures of God for a clearer portrait.

I came to the coffice hoping for inspiration. I got it…and a lesson in tenacity.

The video I posted yesterday reminded me that fear can derail my dreams. Today I am confronted with the fact that our dreams won’t happen without dogged determination. So in the words of Marie (who continues to make calls behind me) “Thanks for your time and have a great day! Goodbye”