Stampede! Or, at least in my mind that’s what I thought was happening.
Granted, now, I realize there was definitely a flare for the dramatic in my response, but I was still pretty green at the whole thing.
We were “driving” cattle, which meant we were trying to move them from one field to another. In the process, they will sometimes naturally run.
The field we were trying to move them out of had a very large ditch (about 40 feet deep) on one side. As we were moving the herd closer to the gate, they started running toward the edge of the ditch, or draw as we called it, I started freaking out.
In the movies, this is where the hero rushes in to divert the herd from the cliff, thus saving the day. So, in my infinite wisdom, I sped over to keep them from jumping to their death.
I didn’t understand one basic concept: cattle may not be hyper intelligent, they’re also generally intelligent enough to realize a 40 foot drop is not a great idea. In other words, the herd was not going to plummet to their death.
The very thing I thought was a danger, was in fact a boundary.
Boundaries are beneficial as you are moving a herd, because it helps reinforce the direction you’re heading. Having a solid boundary on one side allows you to multiply your efforts on the other two sides, and actually increases progress.
Leadership is similar. Sometimes the things we consider to be death traps are actually boundaries in place to help us maximize our effort.
The sacred cows (no pun intended) that drive us crazy actually give us insight into the priorities of those we lead.
The attitudes we don’t understand help us process and choose the right steps forward.
When we understand the limit on one side, we can spend more time on the other two to help push things forward quicker.
Sometimes the boundaries have to be broken through, but often if we shift our mindset just a little, we begin to see the opportunity in front of us and it helps clarify our next steps.
The rest of the story is this: boundaries shouldn’t be boundaries forever. Eventually we moved out of that field into a new one. Those attitudes and sacred cows will eventually stop being boundaries, but only after you’re able to lead forward.
What are you facing today that feels like a death trap, but is actually just a boundary? What adjustment do you need to make to help move things forward?
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Growing up I spent countless hours on tractors. When plowing, I would make “rounds” which meant driving down one side of a terrace and back on the others side. It truly didn’t matter which way I went, but I generally went in a counter-clockwise direction. I never knew why, it was just what felt more natural.
Then one day I discovered why.
There was an old implement in one of the fields. I guess it was more alongside one of the fields. I had never used it, but it had always been there.
One day I asked my dad about it. He told me it was called a “one way” and it was what they used to plow when he was growing up.
Care to guess why it’s called a one way? Because it could only make the rounds one direction.
Care to guess what direction? Counter clockwise.
Can you see where this is going? I was living out a reality that was established by an implement decades before I ever existed. My dad grew up driving a tractor with a one-way, which trained him to go a certain direction. In turn, when I was old enough to plow, my dad taught me the same way he knew and had been doing for decades.
It was tradition.
Tradition always starts somewhere, and usually for a good reason. Tradition often times, however, moves into the realm of “does it really matter” after a little while. The tractors and implements we were using were mechanically ambidextrous, but our tradition-driven habits were not.
As you lead, you will encounter traditions and people who are unwilling to change because of tradition. Sometimes, the tradition is valid. Sometimes, the tradition exists because it’s what is comfortable and known, but the tradition itself is simply strange.
Your role, as a leader, is to help navigate the traditions. Find the good in traditions and maximize it. Find the bad in traditions and erase it.
But understand, traditions are hard wired into everything we do. Eventually, some traditions get so hard wired into our systems that we don’t realize the shortfall. But sometimes, knowing is half the battle.
One last thought: be sympathetic to traditions. Yes, sometimes you have to take a hatchet to a bizarre tradition, but that doesn’t negate the emotional connection.
Ultimately our job as leaders is to lead people, so we have to learn to navigate the emotions people feel when it comes to traditions. Lead with grace and understanding, but also lead with courage. The balance may be difficult, but it is definitely worth it.
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My dad grew up 70 miles from where his operation is centered today and still has some land there. When I was growing up and when I moved back to work on the farm for a few years, we would spend a few days each month going back and forth to “the ranch” to take care of cattle and other things.
The things about owning lands in two different locations, separated by 70 miles, is sometimes you need something at Point A to be at Point B. This could be anything from a tool or part, to a tractor or herd of cattle. So, moving things across the 70 miles was simply a part of the operation.
But throughout all my life, I only had to move “the disc” one time. Now, it’s difficult to describe “the disc” to someone who doesn’t understand the world of farm implements, so I’ll over-simplify it: a disc was something we pulled behind a tractor to plow the ground. A disc is not a plow because it’s a disc, although it does the same thing as a plow, it just uses a different approach. Simple enough, right?
Our lesson today isn’t about the difference, but about one key part of the disc we had to move: when raised and ready to haul, the disc had three wheels side by side by side, which means one wheel was sandwiched between the other two.
In the field, behind a tractor, this was not a problem. But a tractor drives about 5-7 mph, so the wheels never heat up too much, and even if you need to change the wheel, you have the aid of the tractor.
On the highway, behind a pickup traveling somewhere between 55 and 65 mph, this sandwich became a problem.
The one time I had to move “the disc”, you can probably guess what happened–the wheel bearing on the middle wheel went out and needed to be replaced before we finished the trip.
Working on that wheel was one of the worst, most frustrating, and entirely exhausting tasks I had to do in my time back on the farm. Thankfully, I had someone else there to help.
Later, I made a comment to my dad about how frustrating that was and his response took me by surprise: “Yeah, but it’s just kind of a rite of passage.”
You see, he knew moving the disc would probably result in a 2 hour stay at the truck stop trying to fix it. He accepted it as part of life. It wasn’t neglect on our part. It wasn’t foolishness. It wasn’t stupidity. It was natural.
In your leadership, there’s something you’re facing (or have faced) that feels like changing that wheel bearing. You feel frustrated, angry, exhausted, and worn out as a result of it. The reality–you’ll never move forward without doing the hard work that needs to be done.
So today, this week, this month, or this year, know the struggle you’re encountering is something you need to work through, and once you get to the other side you will look back and say “there was no other way.”
Make the most of the time you have today.
Today we are continuing our Lessons from the Farm series. You can click to see some of the previous posts that deal with learning when to stop, when to keep going, perspective, and working until the job is done.
Have you ever passed a cattle truck on the highway? Have you ever thought about how much weight is on the truck?
Or how about a grain truck?
Maybe you don’t know the difference between the two. A truck is a truck, right?
Well, let me let you in on a secret: every truck driver hauling a load of cattle is interested in how much weight they are hauling for several reasons, but one in particular: because there are a group of people on the highways who are very interested in how much weight a cattle truck is hauling.
That group of people are so interested, in fact, they are willing to stop a truck and weigh it themselves. Sometimes, they will even use the red and blue lights on top of their vehicles to assist in pulling the truck over.
There are laws as to how much weight a truck can weigh. So, lighter trailers are worth more because you haul more weight if your starting weight is lower.
These are all things the average person will never know. These are all things I still don’t fully understand. But someone in charge of an operation is heavily invested in not getting a fine for having too large of a load.
As a leader, you may not get pulled over to check the weight, but there are things you need to know (and care about) that other people will never consider. Things like organizational health, relational health, growth metrics, attendance, and engagement.
As a leader, in fact, your investment into these factors should be significantly higher. Understanding key metrics about your ministry (or business) will make you a better leader.
I’ve written about this before, but leadership needs to be intentional. We make decisions to move in a direction, otherwise we drift aimlessly. Intentional leadership means we are aiming at something. It doesn’t mean we are stuck aiming at the same thing for years to come, but we are aiming at something.
So, what are you looking at in your ministry to help you know the weight on the trailer? What are your metrics for success? Is it program attendance? Is it volunteer engagement? Is it the financial bottom line? Camp signups?
Take some time today to work through this, if you haven’t already. Learn the weight limits you have, and grow your leadership influence.
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It’s that time of year again: time for Lessons from the Farm.
This is my third year to post about different leadership learnings I picked up while growing up working on my dad’s farm. You can click to see some of the previous posts that deal with learning when to stop, when to keep going, perspective, and working until the job is done.
Now, on to today’s lesson from the farm.
One of the benefits of growing up working on the farm is getting to drive. I was driving a tractor at the mature age of 7. Around 9 or so, I started driving pickups around the farm.
One summer, I was spending a few days at what we call “the Ranch” – my paternal grandparents’ operation. My aunt needed to feed some cattle, and asked me to go with her.
We rolled out to the pasture in what, to my mind, was an awesome pickup – a late 70s green extended cab Ford pickup. We didn’t have a pickup like this on my dad’s farm. His were way worse (at least, in my mind).
We got to the field and my aunt decided the best plan was to have me drive, while she sat on the tailgate opening sacks of feed and dumping them out as we drove along. Pretty standard procedure, and well within my realm of ability.
Except for one thing: that wonderful green pickup had a touchy gas pedal.
I’m not going to say that I popped wheelies that day, but I think my aunt thought that was what I was trying to do. After getting thrown off the back of the pickup about three times, she helped me figure out what I was doing, and we finished the job.
In leadership situations, sometimes we don’t realize how touchy the gas pedal really is.
A situation we see with an obvious solution may give people on our team whiplash when not approached appropriately.
A decision we are ready to make may carry a few more consequences than we anticipate.
Two different relationships we are trying to establish will move at different speeds.
Approaching each of these situations with awareness and discernment will pay dividends in the long run. As you lead, be careful to not lead so quickly or furiously that the people sitting on the tailgate get thrown out of the pickup.
Ultimately, however, as a leader, we accomplish more when we master the gas pedal. When we are leading people, we have to remember that our goal is not just forward movement, but forward movement together.
What situation are you in where you keep throwing people off the tailgate? What situation are you in where you need to go ahead and press the gas and move forward?