Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Leadership Principles

Cross posted from Soma Christou: a church of Christ

This last weekend we had our final dragon boat race of the season. In the picture you can see me as the tiller (the guy who steers the boat). Our team traveled to Seattle for the weekend, but we have been losing more and more people over the course of the summer so we had to join up with half a team from Seattle in order to fill a boat.

The first time we had paddled together was our first race (we came in 2nd out of three). Things weren't perfect, but I could definitely feel the power on the boat. The second race we didn't improve much (3rd out of 4). By the time we were getting to our third heat of the day the lake was getting choppy and we had lost a paddler who had to leave early.

We tried to compensate, but during the race something went wrong and the boat turned sharply to the left (remember it's my job to steer us). I had to stop us and turn us the right direction in order to finish - we were 30 seconds off the pace. I was upset with myself for not doing my job and costing us precious time in the race.

The next day we arrived to very choppy water and a moderately strong wind. The race coordinators were all cautioning us as to how we needed to avoid the wind and to keep the boat balanced so we would not capsize. We got out on the water and got ourselves aligned for the race. The start was good, but again about mid-way through the race the boat veered sharply to the left. I had to stop us to prevent us hitting another boat and then get us going the right direction again. I was furious. Livid. How could I have made the same mistake twice?!

I directed the paddlers to dock the boat and I immediately went to the race coordinators and asked if I could be replaced as the tiller. I explained that I keep making the same mistake and we don't have time for me to learn during the races. They were great and found us another tiller and I replaced our missing paddler on the boat.

I couldn't immediately join my team because I was still very upset with myself. So, I found a quiet place and sat alone for a bit. That's when Dr. Huffard would have been proud of me - I immediately thought of a leadership principle that I had learned from my experience ( I took a class in leadership from Dr. Huffard and he wanted us to develop the skill of finding leadership principles in our experiences).
A good leader will not allow their personal shortcomings to bring down the team which they lead.

There just wasn't enough time for me to work on my own skills. The only time we had on the boats was time to race. I found out after the fact that there are significant difference in the boat structure versus what we are used to and having a team that has never paddled together did not make my job easier. I'm sure that if we had some time to practice with that team in those boats on that lake that I could have done a much better job. However, without that opportunity the best thing that I could do as a leader is to defer to someone with more experience to step in and take over for the short term.

Have you ever been in this type of situation? Have you ever felt like there was nothing you could do to fix your mistakes? Sometimes, as a leader, there is nothing you can do in the moment; it's time to step aside and let someone else help. You can fix your mistakes later, when the work of the team isn't on the line.


Justin said...

I think you should have harpooned holes into the other dragon boats, that could be another leadership principal (from the Bill Belichick book of leadership).
One thing I've noticed is that there are times when you are leading, but what you are leading doesn't work, or it's broken but others won't let you fix or exchange it before moving forward. Good job by you.

Mick Wright said...

What an excellent story and illustration. Thanks for sharing.

Paula said...

Guess who is in trouble for not calling while they were in Seattle?

James T Wood said...

Sorry, PJ - we were super busy trying to connect with family and stuff.

Justin and Mick - thanks for the encouragement.