When asked in an interview to describe my greatest weakness, I usually talk about my strong work ethic and how I don’t tolerate slackers very well. The idea is to take a weakness, and make it look like a strength. In recent years, as I’ve come to value people over tasks, I’ve had to reconsider this philosophy. In fact, I’ve come to the point where I have some serious regret for the lack of understanding I’ve given some people.
Back in the early 90s I was thrust into a leadership role that I was wholly unprepared for. Leaping over several promotional levels and landing behind a desk that was nearly too big, I made plenty of mistakes. My biggest mistake involved someone for whom I have much respect.
I wish I could say this is the only time I’ve ever done this – but that wouldn’t be true.”
Laird had been a friend and mentor. I had a lot of respect for him and we had a good working friendship. Although he was about 15 year older than me, and had plenty of experience in management, I suddenly found myself as his boss. In my zeal to do a good job, correct some issues, and not disappoint those who gave me an opportunity, I ran right over the top of Laird.
It wasn’t intentional, and I was genuinely confused by the resentment I saw building in him. A couple of years later, when he retired, we weren’t even talking. I could tell that he was quite frustrated and angry with me. I felt bad about that, but at the time, I just shrugged my shoulders and tossed it off as “his problem.” About five years ago, I wrote him a letter and asked for his forgiveness. I had finally come to the point where I realized my mistake.
I wish I could say this is the only time I’ve ever done this – but that wouldn’t be true. In fact, I was so intent on making Common Ground successful, that I often hurt those I loved the most – that is, those on my leadership team. It isn’t that I wanted to hurt them, but more that I expected them to have the same passion as I did. I figured that if they had that level of passion, they would understand my zeal. Instead, it looks more like I was using my zeal as an excuse to be successful – which also isn’t true.
Often life is about finding balance. As I’ve said before, “I know there’s a balance, because I see it when I swing past.” Finding the balance between love and lust, joy and hedonism, spirituality and religion – all these are tricky paths to walk. However, as I continue to journey forward, exploring the opportunities and dangers that lie in my path, I continue to discover areas of enlightenment that I didn’t know existed.
As a paramedic manger in the 1990s, my team was able to accomplish some very creative and constructive things. Even now, as I’ve reentered EMS, I see evidence of my fingerprints all over. Some of the things I set in motion make me cringe. Some things fill me with pride. Still other things create feelings of disappointment as I see ideas that never matured, or were pushed aside and forgotten.
As a spiritual community leader in the last ten years, our teams were also able to accomplish some awesome things. Some of those dreams were rejected (or not embraced) by the larger Church, and some of those ideas had great impacts on the lives of others. Again, as I look back and examine some of these accomplishments and failures, I cringe, feel pride, and am saddened.
It isn’t the failed ideas that sadden me – for I know that experimentation involves a lot of failure. And some of the best ideas and dreams never got of the ground – I know this isn’t because the idea was bad, but more because it never gained traction. What saddens me the most are the broken relationships and broken people that lie in my wake. A trail of blood if you will.
It’s been said that you can’t make an omelette’s if you don’t break a few eggs. It’s also been said that great leaders will leave a trail of blood in their wake. I believe both of these statements to be true. However, there has to be a balance and an understanding of what price we are willing to pay for what accomplishments.
It’s been about 17 years since I first had a revelation about the value of the tasks in which I engage myself. I realized that 100 years from now, no one would even remember most of the things that consumed my energy, time, and focus. In fact, I wouldn’t be remembered as anything more than a name.
Very few people rise to a place where anyone but their descendants remembers them. Case in point: I know that my great-great grandfather came to Oregon by covered wagon in the 1800s. I know that he homesteaded on the Oregon coast. And I know that he is buried somewhere in Oregon City. I also have his name written down somewhere, but couldn’t tell you off the top of my head. However, I could not tell you a single thing about his personality, his other accomplishments, his failures, or his relationships.
For all I know, my great-great grandfather was a brilliant man who made a huge difference in the lives of others. Or, he could have been a mean and terrible person who was hated by everyone around him. I tend to choose the former over the latter, but truth-be-told, I really don’t know. What I do know, is that because of his decision to emigrate to Oregon, I am a native here – and that is important to me.
The lawn needs mowing, I need to clean and detail my truck, and the garage is in serious need of a cleaning – but more importantly, my kids need my time, my wife needs my love, and I have a need to worship my God. If I do all the things on my to do list, will my family be blessed? If I bless my family with my time and presence, will those tasks wait?
“I know there’s a balance, because I see it when I swing past.”
I know my kids won’t wait – they’ll be grown and will leave the house in the blink of an eye. I’ll never get those moments back.
I can’t go back and relive my time with Laird, but based on our latest interactions, I’m pretty sure he’s forgiven my youthful zeal. Ultimately, I’m the loser – for I missed some great opportunities to absorb some of his serenity and wisdom. However, if I steal those moments from my kids, they’ll spend the rest of their lives trying to recapture them – and I can guarantee their attempts will not be as healthy as my time with them now.
These were the values I was trying to instill in my last leadership role – but they didn’t understand. I think even now I am am misunderstood and many think I am a slacker. In fact, I’m just trying to find that balance between people and tasks. First things first, and taking care of the important, over the urgent. God, family, then everything else.
It takes real courage, and humility, to go against the flow. But the tyranny of the urgent, cannot overcome the truly important things. We cannot submit to short-term gain, especially at the expense of what’s truly important. But what is important? Really?
But I’m still learning.