“Burden of Command” or “Be A Leader, Not A Boss”

I have a great deal to be thankful for. My beautiful (if irritating) wife, my two gorgeous (if acrid) fur-babies, my fantastic (if exhausting) job, outstanding (if project-heavy) house, an amazingly rural (if tragically isolated) island home, and inspirational (if maddening) parents and siblings.

I’ve managed to claw a pretty sweet deal for myself, after many hard years. I feel that all these lessons, and my many blessings, should serve as a guide and an inspiration to others, be a pedestal upon which I may lift my peers, as opposed to a thrown to leer down at them with discontent.

1468766_10152052854175856_1846209950_nDuring a conversation with my beautiful wife, Sarah, we were discussing different types of school principals (she is a high school English teacher and part time IRT [special needs] instructor). In this conversation, we discussed running a school like a business, and running it like a family… being a boss, and being a leader.

I really took this conversation to heart. I began to wonder… after having seen this first image many times over the years, it was a thought that was consistently running through my head: Which am I? Do I lead, or am I bossy? The old military addage among the American Civil War (known as The Second War Of Independence by some), an expression was held among the officers that you cannot lead from behind. You must lead your men into the charge, your saber raised, screaming like furies into the lead shot and blood and fire. Lead from the front.

I would equate that to heroism, to be sure, as well as leadership. To realise that the war can be won or lost without you, but it’s the troops who take the field; not the officers. Troops take the field. During the training seminar that I lead for the Western NL Developers Cooperative, AKA The company I work for, I tried my best to be as fatherly and patient as possible. I lead a class of 7 women, varying in ages from 20-somethings to 50-somethings. I began with, “I have you for 8 hours, this’ll take about 2 hours plus some practice, let’s all take our hair down and have a good time.” That seemed to set a good mood. I was teaching how to make balsam fir holiday wreaths, and it’s these ladies who make the products that I can sell. Fat load of good I’d be as a sales manager (one of my many hats) if I had no product to sell. Then I remembered, it’s the troops who take the field.

During the process of learning to make the wreaths, I recalled and recited many words of wisdom passed on to me by my father. When a student got really frustrated, and began to nit-pick needlessly over minutia, I would ask “Is this a hill worth dying on?” Is it really worth spending 20 minutes to fix a mistake that, when you think about it, the next step in the process covers it up anyway? Anyway, the work continued, and someone else got a little excited and missed a step, then fretted over the error. I crouched next to her and pointed out the error, “An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure.” I showed her another way that relied upon different intelligences, more logical than tactile, and addressed the room, “It’s a Foolish man who built his house on sand.” (a biblical reference) and pointed out the importance of doing each step to it’s completion before you begin to play with it. Finish the wire wrapping completely and tie it in before you release tension on the line, or the whole thing becomes floppy. I then quoted Stephen King, “You can edit gibberish, but you cannot edit a blank page. Finish whatever step your own before you worry about interrupting your flow to fix it. In this craft, many errors will work themselves out; practice will teach you when stopping is really necessary. Patience is the key, with your craft and with your students.

Over the course of the day, we developed a real bond. A dirty joke here, an extended break there, an arbitrary interruption from the routine to share experiences of past jobs, education, funny stories, etc, just to break the monotony and the pressure. They had concerns, I addressed them. They felt as though they were not progressing fast enough, I said, “I had 36 hours to teach myself to do this, build a lesson plan, prepare a keynote, GET here, discover I had no technology to work with and teach it from memory. In the past 4 hours you went from nothing to working on your second wreath. You have 4 weeks to the program to reach the goal average number per day, you’re already ahead of the curve.” That seemed to satisfy them. I took a relatively completed topic, broke it down into parts that I couldn’t simplify any further, and treated the class like adults. I sat with each of them, illustrated each error that was made to the class so we all learned, and payed credit where credit was due.

They asked if they could use this job on a resume, I told them I’d make them certificates to hang on their wall. They asked if they could listen to music, I arranged a stereo for them. They asked if they could sell any on their own, I arranged a sales commission PER wreath for each student. They asked about specializing, I discussed the concept of mass-production and assembly lines, discussed with them how the work could be broken up and the number of people who’d need to be at each stage to avoid bottle necks. They inquired, and I provided. I prepared my troops to take the field.
Anyone can bark orders, and anyone can give instruction, anyone can feel superior by standing on the shoulders of giants. But just remember that the 1% may hoard 99% of the world’s wealth (if not today, that day is coming), but make no mistake the sort of people who build nations. The saying goes that we cannot all be astronauts, but someone needs to clean the floors at NASA, someone needs to build the computers and fuel the rockets and write the computer code and pack the lunches for the flight controllers at Cape Canaveral. All nations are built on the backs of slaves, just some more recently than others. It’s important to be a collective in these teams. The ladies whom I trained knew my position, they knew my role, but they also knew that we all put our socks on one foot at a time, and all have a job to do.

I took care of my staffers that day, and I have every intention to continue to do so. They have my email and cell numbers, they know where to find me if they have questions, comments or concerns. They don’t even work for me. They work for a District Association that is represented by a member of the board of directors whom I answer to. They are more my second cousins, than my children. Does that matter? Not a bit. They were my responsibility. They are a link in the chain. Like I said, we can’t all be astronauts, but the world needs floors cleaned, taxies driven and burgers flipped. We all have a place.

We’re all pieces of the puzzle, myself included, and in this rat-race that we call life, I’d rather have a team behind me that I can trust, as I march them towards a goal that we can’t reach individually. A single soldier won’t win a war, but a unified army can seize a nation. Conformity can be dangerous, but unity can be one of the most awesome forces the world has ever seen. Many hands acting as one to accomplish a goal. A beautiful symphony of united purpose. Be a PART of that unified purpose, be the officer with the saber, be the soldier with the flag and no weapon. Unite and army. Move mountains.

Don’t be the hollow orders without a face, barking orders over a telephone or through a memo. Have a voice, maintain a presence, be a reason they try so hard, provide your team with inspiration and with a cause. Lead from the front.

Be a leader, bot a boss.

hit mapBy the way, thanks to my troops, my attentive fans, in the past  78 days, in just 11 weeks since our FIRST post on September 3rd, we’ve hit 2500 hits (only 1027 of which were in Canada), with 33 comments,  65 posts and we’ve reached IP Addresses in 66 different countries, in every populated continent. I can’t take credit for this, I can preach from my soapbox but a voice is nothing without an audience. For this I thank you.

2500 hits in just 11 weeks, Imagine where we’ll be a year from now; together.


One thought on ““Burden of Command” or “Be A Leader, Not A Boss”

  1. Inspiring and excellent post. Thank you for sharing. I’ve always thought of a leader as one who serves the troops, not the other way around.


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