Sometimes in the daily challenges that life gives us, we miss what is really important. We may fail to say hello, please, or thank you, congratulate someone on something wonderful that has happened to them, give a compliment, or just do something nice for no reason.
Charles Plumb, a US Naval Academy graduate, was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison. He survived the ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience.
One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, "You're Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!"
"How in the world did you know that?" asked Plumb. "I packed your parachute," the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude.
The man pumped his hand and said, "I guess it worked!" Plumb assured him, "It sure did. If your chute hadn't worked, I wouldn't be here today."
Plumb couldn't sleep that night, thinking about that man. Plumb says, "I kept pondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform - a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back, and bell bottom trousers. I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said good morning, how are you or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor."
Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn't know.
Now, Plumb asks his audience, "Who's packing your parachute?" Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. Plumb also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory- he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He called on all these supports before reaching safety.
His experience reminds us all to prepare ourselves to weather whatever storms lie ahead. As you go through this week, this month, this year...recognize the people who pack your parachute!
Long ago, when the knights lived in the land, there was one knight whose name was Sir George. He was not only braver than all the rest, but he was so noble, kind, and good that the people came to call him Saint George.
No robbers ever dared to trouble the people who lived near his castle, and all the wild animals were killed or driven away, so the little children could play even in the woods without being afraid.
One day St. George rode throughout the country. Everywhere he saw the men busy at their work in the fields, the women singing at work in their homes, and the little children shouting at their play.
"These people are all safe and happy. They need me no more," said St. George.
"But somewhere perhaps there is trouble and fear. There may be someplace where little children cannot play in safety, some woman may have been carried away from her home - perhaps there are even dragons left to be slain. Tomorrow I shall ride away and never stop until I find work which only a knight can do."
Early the next morning St. George put on his helmet and all his shining armor, and fastened his sword at his side. Then he mounted his great white horse and rode out from his castle gate. Down the steep, rough road he went, sitting straight and tall, and looking brave and strong as a knight should look.
On through the little village at the foot of the hill and out across the country he rode. Everywhere he saw rich fields filled with waving grain, everywhere there was peace and plenty.
He rode on and on until at last he came into a part of the country he had never seen before. He noticed that there were no men working in the fields. The houses which he passed stood silent and empty. The grass along the roadside was scorched as if a fire had passed over it. A field of wheat was all trampled and burned.
St. George drew up his horse, and looked carefully about him. Everywhere there was silence and desolation. "What can be the dreadful thing which has driven all the people from their homes? I must find out, and give them help if I can," he said.
But there was no one to ask, so St. George rode forward until at last far in the distance he saw the walls of a city. "Here surely I shall find someone who can tell me the cause of all this," he said, so he rode more swiftly toward the city.
Just then the great gate opened and St. George saw crowds of people standing inside the wall. Some of them were weeping, all of them seemed afraid. As St. George watched, he saw a beautiful maiden dressed in white, with a girdle of scarlet about her waist, pass through the gate alone. The gate clanged shut and the maiden walked along the road, weeping bitterly. She did not see St. George who was riding quickly toward her.
"Maiden, why do you weep?" he asked as he reached her side.
She looked up at St. George sitting there on his horse, so straight and tall and beautiful. "Oh, Sir Knight!" she cried, "ride quickly from this place. You know not the danger you are in!"
"Danger!" said St. George. "Do you think a knight would flee from danger? Besides, you, a fair girl, are here alone. Think you a knight would leave you so? Tell me your trouble that I may help you."
"No! No!" she cried, "hasten away. You would only lose your life. There is a terrible dragon near. He may come at any moment. One breath would destroy you if he found you here. Go! Go quickly!"
"Tell me more of this," said St. George sternly. "Why are you here alone to meet this dragon? Are there no men left in your city?"
"Oh," said the maiden, "my father, the King, is old and feeble. He has only me to help him take care of his people. This terrible dragon has driven them from their homes, carried away their cattle, and ruined their crops. They have all come within the walls of the city for safety. For weeks now the dragon has come to the very gates of the city. We have been forced to give him two sheep each day for his breakfast.
"Yesterday there were no sheep left to give, so he said that unless a young maiden were given him today he would break down the walls and destroy the city. The people cried to my father to save them, but he could do nothing. I am going to give myself to the dragon. Perhaps if he has me, the Princess, he may spare our people."
"Lead the way, brave Princess. Show me where this monster may be found."
When the Princess saw St. George's flashing eyes and great, strong arm as he drew forth his sword, she felt afraid no more. Turning, she led the way to a shining pool.
"There's where he stays," she whispered. "See, the water moves. He is waking."
St. George saw the head of the dragon lifted from the pool. Fold on fold he rose from the water. When he saw St. George he gave a roar of rage and plunged toward him. The smoke and flames flew from his nostrils, and he opened his great jaws as if to swallow both the knight and his horse.
St. George shouted and, waving his sword above his head, rode at the dragon. Quick and hard came the blows from St. George's sword. It was a terrible battle.
At last the dragon was wounded. He roared with pain and plunged at St. George, opening his great mouth close to the brave knight's head.
St. George looked carefully, then struck with all his strength straight down through the dragon's throat, and he fell at the horse's feet - dead.
Then St. George shouted for joy at his victory. He called to the Princess. She came and stood beside him.
"Give me the girdle from about your waist, O Princess," said St. George.
The Princess gave him her girdle and St. George bound it around the dragon's neck, and they pulled the dragon after them by that little silken ribbon back to the city so that all of the people could see that the dragon could never harm them again.
When they saw St. George bringing the Princess back in safety and knew that the dragon was slain, they threw open the gates of the city and sent up great shouts of joy.
The King heard them and came out from his palace to see why the people were shouting. When he saw his daughter safe he was the happiest of them all.
"O brave knight," he said, "I am old and weak. Stay here and help me guard my people from harm."
"I'll stay as long as ever you have need of me," St. George answered.
It's been a while since we've done a collaboration on this blog, but I always love getting everyone's mind working together on something. In this case, I was inspired by a comment from Chuck Larner who came up with the name "Mediocrates" for one of Obstacle's friends. I responded back that "Ida" would be the name for his girlfriend, as in "If Only Ida," and she would be known as the Queen of Regret (someone gave me this idea in passing during the weekend, but I don't remember who (ps: this is the chance to claim it, you know who you are)).
I wonder what other partners-in-achievement-destruction the creative minds of the readers of this blog can come up with? Certainly Obstacles doesn't work alone!
"God allows . . . disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavor. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming to laborious doing."
I like that last part especially, ". . . the transition from dreaming to laborious doing."
What experiences do you readers have of this? Do you remember transitions from excitement to work? What pushed you through it?
Winston Churchill is nearly a leadership cliche. His defiance in the face of Nazi aggression during World War II is deservingly legendary. But the "back story" behind Sir Winston's rise (and fall, and rise again) is quite incredible. His story is one of determination, deliberate personal growth, perseverence, courage, and vision.
Young Winston Churchill was not a good student, and in his younger years was ranked toward the bottom of his class. As a boy, he talked with a lisp and also stuttered. To fix this, he practiced for hours in front of a mirror until his pronunciations were correct. Most people don't realize, as well, that Churchill was held as a prisoner of war during the Boer War in South Africa. From this predicament let's begin a timeline of accomplishments and defeats in the life of this incredible leader (borrowed from Jeff O'Leary, Footprints in Time):
1899 - While serving as army lieutenant, he is captured, escapes, and temporarily rejoins the army
1900 - elected to Parliament, Conservative Party
1908 - Marries Clementine Hozier
1911-1915 - Serves as First Lord of the Admiralty (similar to Secretary of the Navy in the U.S.)
1915 - Held responsible for the Dardanelles disaster at Gallipoli - 250,000 Allied casualties. Forced to resign, offered a cabinet post without influence. At age forty, rejoins the army in France and leads a battalion. All media and both parties declare Churchill finished.
1917 - Writes proposal on building a tank with caterpillar tracks. Tank called "Churchill's Folly" until it proves itself in battle and results in his appointment as minister of munitions.
1919 - Appointed to secretary of state for War and Air.
1923 - Runs again for Parliamnet as a Liberal. Loses.
1924 - Runs as an Independent. Loses.
1924-1929 - Appointed chancellor of the Exchequer (second to the Prime Minister)
1930 - Party out of power following the stock market crash and depression.
- Churchill retains seat in Parliament
- Loses nearly all his wealth in the Great Depression and begins writing
1930-1939 - Loses all influence in both parties as he advocates for a stronger military. A vocal opponent of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy with Germany, his warnings fall on deaf ears. Publishes four books during the decade, but the prevailing wisdom declares he is finished.
1939 - Chamberlain returns from Germany, waving treaty document and proclaiming, "Peace in our time." Churchill responds, "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You have chosen both!"
1939 - Hitler breaks pact with Chamberlain and invades Poland
May 1940 - Chamberlain forced to resign as Prime Minister.
Summer 1940 - Churchill apointed to first term as Prime Minister.
In 1939 the German Army had 98 divisions available for the invasion of Poland. Although some were ill-equipped veteren reservists, they still had 1.5 million well-trained men available for action. It also had 9 panzer divisions. Each one had 328 tanks . . . When the German Army mounted its Western Offensive in 1940, it had had 2.5 million men and 2500 tanks . . . The German Army continued to grow and in June 1941 had 3 million men (including 200,000 from its allies) . . . available for Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. This included 142 infantry divisions, 17 panzer divisions and 4,000 tanks . . . Despite heavy losses in the Soviet Union and in France following the D-Day landings, the German Army still had 168 infantry divisions and 25 panzer divisions by January 1945.
In January 1942 the United States could field only 37 army divisions, one of which was fully trained, equipped, and battle ready. From the fall of 1939 to the summer of 1940, tens of millions of Europeans lost their freedom to fascism with frightening speed.
Poland was attacked first and fell to Germany in twenty-seven days.
Germany attacked Finland in November 1939 and forced a peace agreement in March 1940.
Germany invaded Norway and Denmark in April 1940 and at the same time, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Belgium surrendered in May, Norway surrendered in June, and France surrendered after less than thrity days of combat, in spite of its ability to mobilize more than 5 million men. Hitler entered Paris on June 23, 1940.
In July 1940, the Soviets seized Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and eastern Poland. Italy occupied British territories in East Africa, while the United States continued to reamain officially neutral, and Germany launched its attack on the last remaining free nation in Europe - Great Britain. It appeared that Europe and the rest of the world would soon have a German dictator replacing their freely elected governments. Britain was about to face the darkest days of its history - alone.
Great Britain would stand alone, for a while, but it would not be without leadership. Into this void stepped a man who had for years warned of the Nazi threat, and who had spent his entire life overcoming obstacles and preparing himself for his great destiny. Churchill's resolve and determination put a face on courage that rallied a nation to its "finest hour." As Churchill himself said, "It is a crime to despair. We must learn to draw from misfortune the means of future strength."
But there is more to the story.
After World War II ended, another power vaccum developed. The fall of Naziism in Europe brought a land and power-hunger Russia into Eastern Europe. Communism was quick to bite off large chunks of territory surrendered by the Naziis. Most of the world was so war-weary and thrilled about the prospect of peace that they were willing to interpret events in Eastern Europe with rose-colored glasses. But not Churchill. He vehemently opposed Communist advances, and he vocally warned of its threat. But the world was ready for peace, and Churchill once again lost power. Not long after standing firm in Britain's finest hour, the master leader fell from power and was again out of the government. Only later, did the people realize, once again, that Churchill had been right, and once again made him Prime Minister. But it was too late. The Cold War had begun.
Churchill's life is so full of inspiration that any leader can find a lesson from which to gain strength and wisdom. Time and again Churchill stood for what was right, and it often cost him dearly. He overcame obstacles and opposition throughout his storied career. He met foes head on. He rose from the ashes after every defeat. He made mistakes, learned from them, and lived to redeem himself. Sometimes he had a following, sometimes he didn't.
As O'Leary wrote, "Character is not born - character is formed. Begin with yourself. Perhaps your inclination is to cave in when the pressures grow and the obstacles seem impossible to overcome. You must develop a strategy to reinforce your attitude and spirit at times like these. Perhaps one way is to realize you aren't the first and only person to ever face insurmountable odds." If this is true, than Churchill's example ought to suffice!
Leaders lead because it is the right thing to do, because it is "in them," and because they were born for it. Sometimes, it even gets recognized.
For this reason, I particularly like it when historians dig up lost stories of selfless sacrifice by unsung leaders. This excerpt from Alan Axelrod is interesting, partly because it is so little known, and partly because the hero of the story is a woman; a solid reminder that leadership does not have a preferred gender.
"Paul Revere was not the Revolution's only rider of note. Sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington lived in the small Putnam County, New York, village named for her family, Ludington Mills, the daughter of a Patriot militia colonel. On April 26, 1777, a messenger appeared at Ludington's door, warning of the approach of the British. Colonel Ludington had little time to summon and organize his militiamen, who lived miles apart form one another across the countryside. The messenger and his horse were spent, and the colonel had to remain at home, planning the regiment's action. It fell to Sybil, a strong and capable rider, and her horse, Star, to make a thirty-mile circuit through the night and rain sounding the alarm: 'Muster at the Ludingtons!'"
Skillful, selfless, brave, spontaneous, and heroic: a simple, great historical example of leadership. Remember, leaders may be needed at any time: one cannot predict when - best to be willing and prepared!
Every great leader knows the feeling of being caught up in the momentum of a great cause. True leaders live for those moments and exert every ounce of their ability to push things along toward their ultimate vison. For a leader, there is perhaps nothing more exhilerating than having one's efforts lead to results that are in line with the highest picture the leader has of his or her self, goal, and vision.
It has been said that trying times reveal a leader's character. Another statement says that "wars make heroes." Certainly there is something to be said for the times themselves being at least a little responsible for presenting opportunities for a leader to thrive. After all, doesn't it make sense that there are hundreds of generals just as capable as the ones who became famous during war time, but never really achieved fame and notoriety because there was no war to make them known?
On the other hand, it also makes sense that a leader can impact those around him or her and even alter the course of events. Certainly a leader's efforts make a difference. As we've discussed at length on this blog, a leader's efforts often have an enormous impact. Who would lead if the efforts of a leader made no difference whatsoever.
Considering these two points of view reveals a paradox. Namely, that events make leaders, but leaders also make events. To what extent is either one of these positions true? To answer that question, I would like to quote from a distinguished professor at USC (in fact, he's USC's President), Steven B. Sample:
"In the course on leadership that Warren Bennis and I teach at USC, we contrast the veiws of Leo Tolstoy, who believed that history shapes and determines leaders, with those of Thomas Carlyle, who believed that leaders shape and determine history. In his epilogue to perhaps the greatest of all novels, War and Peace, Tolstoy argued that kings and generals are history's slaves. That is, Tolstoy believed that leaders merely ride the crests of historical waves which have been set in motion by myriad forces beyond these leaders' control or comprehension. 'Every act of theirs, which appears to them an acto of their own free will," he wrote, 'is in an historical sense involuntary and is related to the whole cause of history and predestined from eternity.'
On the other side is Carlyle, the nineteenth-century British historian and essayist, who was convinced that 'history is the biography of great men,' the greatest of them being kings. The very word king, Carlyle contends, derives from the ancient word can-ning, which means 'alble man.' In Carlyle's view, it is the Ablemen (and Ablewomen) of our species who direct the course of history and determine humanity's destiny.
My experiences as a leader, as well as my study of chaos theory and related phenomena, have led me to a middle ground between Tolstoy and Carlyle. It may well be that our world is largely Tolstoyan, subject to historical forces which no man or woman can fully measure and analyze, and the consequences of which no person can fully predict. Thus, to that extent, leaders are in fact history's slaves. However, I am also convinced that Ablemen and Ablewomen can make a difference in the course of human events; that the decisions of leaders can indeed have a lasting impact on the world; that historical determinism is never totally in control."
Several reflections are warranted here, I think. First, I believe that the truth lies between what Tolstoy represents and what Carlyle proclaims. Secondly, I also believe that we cannot properly have this discussion without considering the fact that our world is governed by its Creator, who somehow all-knowingly directs events to His glory, even while at the same time allowing us free will (another of life's greatest paradoxes). Thirdly, and closely related to the second, I believe that we each have a destiny that God has laid upon our hearts to discover, that when pursued, will undoubtedly make a difference. And fourthly, I believe that the most important thing a leader can do is to seek to make an impact in the lives of other people, to a greater extent than he or she works to influence events. In this way, much of the discussion of how much events affect the leader, or visa versa, receeds into the background; for there can be no doubting the fact that one person can and does make a huge impact in the lives of others. Caring for someone, showing them love, forgiving them, considering their needs, serving them, and the whole host of Biblical requirements falling under the category of "love thy neighbor" are all traits of great leaders, and are all certainly effective in the lives of others. In essence, we may compel events, and sometimes events will compel us, but we can always make a difference in the lives of others.
What do you readers out there think? Do you have any stories or examples that would illustrate this great paradox? I always love hearing from you all!
This year's Winter Leadership Convention has to go down in history as the best ever! A hearty salute goes out to the thousands who refused to let the "Obstacles" of a little bad weather slow you down! What a packed arena! All the speakers did such an outstanding job, and the LIFE Training employees and volunteers put on an entirely professional, inspirational, smoothly run show. Thank you to each and every person who helped make this weekend a life-changer for so many people.
I have been inundated with comments , emails, and messages about what a fantastic weekend it was. In the comment section of this post, please let us know what your favorite part was! What touched your heart? What fired you up? What was the biggest "nugget" you came away with? Did you like the new tools, and what was the most helpful? We'd like to hear it all!
"Obstacles already trying to hold us back! The bobblehead stopped us dead at airport security . . . But we overcame! Great weekend. Just what we needed!"
"After he was removed and body cavity searched, he was returned to us in his cardboard casket!"
I guess even Obstacles has a little trouble getting through airport security!
God bless all of you, and may your leadership abilities continue to soar!