I have long understood that a leader should be willing to lead by example - that a leader should be willing to jump in with both feet and work alongside his minions. This kind of leader is rare. I had the opportunity to work under such a man in the mid-1980s, before I entered the teaching field. I worked at a catfish farm and outdoor recreation area in El Reno, Oklahoma. The beautiful setting for my job was known as The Wilds, named after the owners. Lynn Wilds was the younger brother in the family, just a few years older than I. You can find what I wrote about that job and others on my Back in Time page, but here is how I wrote about Lynn, a boss who never expected me to do anything that he wasn't willing to do. He took the time to teach me as we worked.
As a boss, Lynn was not afraid to lead by example, usually outworking anyone on staff. He also was not afraid to get dirty. I watched him unclog the grease trap at the restaurant with his bare hands, and remember helping him muck the stalls in the barn. And of course, he could skin a catfish alongside the best of us.
Speaking of dirty jobs, he and I drained the half-acre pond once in order to add an aeration system to it. We wanted to put some perforated PVC pipe in the pond and attach it to an air pump in order to deliver more oxygen to the fish. With virtually no vegetation in the pond, fishermen never snagged moss or trees in the pond, but the fish had to be fed regularly. Also, no vegetation meant the fish needed a source of oxygen that plants would normally provide.
Enter: the two of us. With the sun beating down on it the exposed mud and fish poo, the pond smelled something awful. Donning our wading boots and old clothes, we stepped into the pond. I was surprised when I sank in the muddy substance past my knees. In order to maneuver in the pond, we had to balance on one foot while lifting the other leg completely out of the mud and repositioning it, sinking it once again up past the knee. This, I don’t mind telling you, was difficult, and we both had our times of losing our balance and ending up on our backs or face forward in the mud (Of course, I’m just calling it mud here, but we all knew, with a smell like that, this was so much more than mud.).
The thing that impressed me the most was that Lynn was there with me. I happily did this hapless job because of the camaraderie we had. It was the payment that I gladly paid for being able to do the parts of the job I enjoyed. Lynn wasn’t wary of climbing through that stuff, and because of that I wasn’t either. He could just as easily have delegated this job to some of the grunts on the payroll, and he could just as easily have barked orders from the shore, but that wasn’t his leadership style. Lynn remains one of my greatest mentors (and yes, the aeration system worked, though fishermen often wondered why the surface of the pond bubbled).
Washington had always been like that: on the cusp of the French and Indian War, he was impatient and impulsive, jumping into frozen rivers instead of waiting for ferries, approving the first shots to begin the war himself. Fast forward to 1777, and we find Washington rallying his troops with a more mature and astute version of those same traits. It seems that he had taken his weakness and turned it into a strength.
Is it always possible for such to occur? I don't have the answer to that, but we might still be able to make some applications for kids in the fourth grade:
- Never be afraid or wary of hard work.
- Learn on the job.
- Start and do what you can; you might just figure things out by doing.
- Bring others along for the ride. Encourage them.