On our honeymoon in Hawaii in 1989, I did something pretty foolish. I thought I would take a sailing lesson in a laser from the recreation staff at the Air Force resort where we were staying. A laser is the smallest sailboat you could imagine, barely big enough for two people to sit on. The lesson actually went well. The foolish part was thinking it was a good idea for me to take my new bride for a ride the next day out in the open ocean, on a windy day, after having only one lesson. My impending disaster was compounded by the fact that the teenagers I rented the laser from didn’t attach the mast to the boat correctly. To make a long, embarrassing story short, we found ourselves stranded too far out to sea, sitting on the bottom-side of our overturned laser with a broken mast, waving our arms and yelling for help, hoping someone on shore would notice. You can just imagine how impressed my new bride must have been with my newfound sailing skills.
After frighteningly too long, as our little boat crested the big waves, we saw a figure of a person splashing toward us from the shore. As he got closer, we could see he was paddling on a surfboard. Soon we could see that he was a young lifeguard. When he reached us, I could see he was the same teenager who had put together our laser incorrectly.
But the most perplexing thing was that, while I appreciated his effort to paddle all the way out to us and make sure we were safe, he had no idea how he was going to rescue us with only a surfboard. We were safer staying on our capsized boat than going with him on his surfboard. He meant well, but he just didn’t have the capacity to help us get our broken boat back to shore. So he joined us and our capsized laser with his little surfboard, bobbing in the ocean, hoping for rescue.
After some more time passed, a small motorboat approached. It was driven by the young lifeguard’s boss, who promptly gave the despondent young man an impressive butt chewing. “How the *^”:+@ do you think you’re going to rescue two people and a laser with a surf board?”
While he was still scolding his young employee, some Marines came by on a large catamaran and offered to take Sonia and me back to shore while the manager and his young apprentice towed our crippled boat back to the dock.
Here’s the point for us as leaders: If we want to be effective leaders for others, we need to invest in continually growing our own leadership capacity. If our leadership capital is the equivalent of that surfboard, we’re ill equipped to lead or grow the leadership capacity of our people. Investing in the leadership skills of our people is very important for us as leaders, but we can’t neglect continuing to grow our own leadership capital as well. A great mentor many years ago used to remind me, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.” And a friend of mine reminded me just this week that the greatest gift we can give to those we lead is our own personal development, so that we are leaders worth imitating. So let’s build leadership catamarans for ourselves, not just surf boards.
1. In what ways are you investing in your own health and development so that you can give your best to your people?
2. In what ways are you neglecting your own health and development? What do you think will be the long-term impact on your capacity to lead and develop others?
Jay Pullins is the founder and owner of Anchorage-based Catapult Leadership Solutions, providing expertise in developing the character and competency of leaders in all sectors. He is also a leadership course facilitator for Academy Leadership, LLC.