Lessons from Hawaii

I was once again asked to write a short piece for Star News, a publication for law enforcement. This article will be published August 2011.

Life has a funny way of touching you at the strangest moments. If you miss those moments they will be lost forever, but if you find a moment of clarity within them they may just provide you with a moment of growth. I am writing this about three hours after one of those moments. You see, I have an absolute passion for Scuba Diving. There are very few things I have a passion for: Family, Faith, my Career, and Scuba Diving… That about sums it up!

Today’s experience brought several of my passions together in a single moment of clarity. I was diving with my son off the shore of Kona Hawaii and we were about to enter an underwater lava tube. Overhead diving is the most dangerous type of diving and it was quite a thrill as father and son entered into the unknown together. Apprehension, sure. Concern, you bet. Excitement, more than you know. Here is what I learned.

Whether it is Diving, Career, or Family, each of these can be improved by the lessons of this day.

First lesson, never enter times of apprehension or danger alone, you need the covering of those who care for you and your safety. The first rule of diving is always have a buddy. My son had my back and I had his. We watched each other and it put us at ease in an otherwise hostile and dangerous environment.

Second lesson, trust your training and the training of those you surround yourself with. Training is paramount. My son is well trained and should something have gone bad deep under the waves he would have shifted in a heartbeat from enjoying time with dad to getting dad safely to the surface. I trust him for that and he trusts me.

Third lesson, use your equipment. You see, in diving, maintaining and training with equipment is first priority. Quality equipment can make the difference between life and death and redundancy is part of the program. Two divers, two regulators each, two lights apiece, etc. You don’t want to be fifty feet into a pitch black lava tube, sixty feet beneath the waves, and have your light fail!

Forth lesson, it’s all equally important and it is the combination of all of it that brings you home. Companionship, trust of others, trust of training and trust of equipment. Whether life or career, each item means security for life. Could I have dove the lava tubes of Kona alone, sure. Perhaps for a lifetime without incident. But what if… Breaking the rules will eventually destroy you and those who love you.

Final lesson, for me, my final passion brings it all together. Faith makes it all worthwhile. Faith brings me the trust of others and the companionship that the human spirit longs for. It gives me the ability to trust and be trusted. It is my equipment for life, helping me with the times of apprehension, fear, and doubt. I approach those difficult moments in life, career and family in the same way I faced the entrance of that lava tube today, with a prayer!

Learn Up. Train Down.

There is a great scene in “We Were Soldiers” where Mel Gibson says; “Learn the job of the man above you and teach your job to the man below. We will be landing under fire gentlemen… Men will die.”

It has been said that the measure of a great leader is this, that in his or her absence, the organization will continue to function in precisely the same manner. For the leader, this is both honoring and terrifying.

I remember telling my leaders that if we get to the point where someone else can run this organization better than me, I will happily step aside. I said that because I believed (rightly so) that the organization was the most important thing. But, did I actually believe that I would step aside? Of that, I am not so convinced… It sounded like a dignified statement from me as their leader, but each time I said it I trembled inside.

It’s kind of the same as confidently saying that we could die for our faith or for our country. It is easy to say when the chances are slight that we will ever be tested in that manner. Each of us hopes that it is the truth, but we will never know unless put to the test.

Learning Up

Learning up is easy for many of us. In fact, we see it as preparation for promotion. Thinking back on a previous employment, I remember the moment I knew I would be moving into my next position, I made every effort to learn the job of my superior. I went with him to meetings, learned from him, asked him questions, and prepared to take his place. His allowing me to learn from him said more about his character than it did mine. I wonder if he ever hesitated to teach me when he knew I desired to replace him? I doubt it. He understood the second principle, Train Down.

Train Down

The transformational leader trains his direct reports to fill his shoes. A nominal leader avoids training others in intricacies of their position. The reason is most often a fear of being replaced or deemed unnecessary. However, when the transformational leader understands that the organization is the priority, he will allow others to learn what they need to learn to advance the missional causes of the whole. If this means that he becomes unnecessary, then so be it.

HOWEVER…

Most of the time, the resulting team-building and empowerment solidifies the leader in his position and further empowers him to lead the group or team. In other words, great value is found in that leader. When he actively trains to become replaceable, he becomes indispensable.

Lead Leaders

Stop leading followers and lead leaders.

Picking the right people is a tricky proposition. Many of us have handed the torch to another only to find it is a “beat stick” in their hands. Bringing harmony to a team that has been destroyed by a less-than-capable leader whom you appointed is far more difficult than getting the choice right in the first place.

Even the ancients understood this. This interesting quote comes from Onasander, a Greek philosopher from the first century A.D., and shows that even 2000 years ago men wrestled with these very issues.

“Most men are distressed when placed under the command of ignoble individuals. For no one voluntarily puts up with submitting to a master or a leader who is inferior to himself.” (Onasander, The General 1.17)
Many leaders, given such an experience, will digress back to leading followers instead of seeking a new capable leader to assist in leading the organization. Stop! You need people whom you trust to help you carry the load of transformational change. You can be a mentor. Taking time and investing in another has huge benefits for the future. The time invested in another capable leader will multiply your abilities to lead.

About Mentoring…

If mentoring sounds like a great idea, you still have to decide whether it’s right for you. The questions below should serve as a wake-up call as to your ability to lead other leaders as opposed to followers.

Do you get excited at the idea of sharing the knowledge and experience that has been given to you, or do you feel that you are incapable of imparting anything of value to another?

Do you enjoy encouraging and motivating people toward a goal and rejoice with them when it is accomplished, or do you make every effort to take the glory?

Are you comfortable challenging people to be better even if you know it may cause them discomfort, or would you rather accept sub-standard work and internalize your discontent?

Do you want to contribute to other people’s growth and success, or do you see it as a threat to your value in the organization?
Can you faithfully invest your time in mentoring your leaders, or are you so absorbed in meaningless tasks that you cannot give anything to anyone without feeling like you are falling behind?

Do you feel that building a leader is the most important focus of your efforts, or do you feel the daily tasks you accomplish are greater organizational contributions?

Can you visualize the future leader that you would like to mentor? Can you describe their qualities and their talents, or are you one that grows frustrated because you grab any warm body that seems willing?

I hope that these questions, coupled with the understanding of the importance of building leaders, helps you make the next positive step toward transformational change in your organization’s culture. Perhaps they will serve as a mirror that reflects the deficiency of your leadership. Regardless of whether this motivates, or infuriates, you are faced with your introspection and that’s a good thing. Knowledge truly is power.