In the next couple of blogs I want to share some observations about leadership, through my experiences on the mission field, in Baja, Mexico.
My most recent trip was vastly different from any of the other six. We didn’t go to build a house; instead, we went to build a school for the JK and Kindergarten classes in this community.
The project was double the size of anything we had ever done. We had half the time to raise twice the funds, and we had half the number of people for the build, with only five days to do so! Below is one of my favourite pictures of the kids leaning on the wall of their new school.
Before I share what happened, and the lessons from that experience, let me first tell you how it came about…
It’s common for people in this poor farming community to ask for things - money, food, building materials, and even the jacket you’re wearing. Experience has taught us that you don’t always believe everything you hear because you never know if people are telling you the truth, or if they want to take advantage of you. Poverty can do that.
While building the last house in Mexico, a “stranger” walked on to the job site. He said he was a teacher who had 60 kids enrolled in his school. He asked if we could help build a roof for his school, because currently, he only had a tarp as a roof.
Our team was in full swing, working on our house project. It was crunch time. Our team was really busy, it was late afternoon of the third day, and we were all tired, hot and dusty. I was asked to speak to this guy because I speak Spanish. I begrudgingly left my teammate, and my job of framing a window.
I listened above the din of construction. My first response was to politely nod and try and quickly send him off. He sounded a bit sketchy, and I had people waiting for me. It was really busy.
In hindsight, it was one of many moments of truth we face every day, as leaders. I could either be present and open with this gentleman, or give in to my internal demands to get things done and be overcome by my biases and preconceived notions of who this man was, and shuffle him off.
This story illustrates the pressures we face as leaders. We battle busy-ness, the need to move things forward, looming deadlines, the need to deliver on client expectations, people’s need for support and direction, and the constraints of limited resources and less than ideal working conditions with potentially old and antiquated tools and methods. Sound like your world?
How do you as a leader deal with these pressures and focus on what is in front of you?
I don’t pretend to be a “leadership expert”. What I know has been learned in the trenches of success and failure. In this instance, I did what I have been trained to do. I took a deep breath and got curious about the person standing in front of me. I did not grit my teeth and pretend or will myself to focus. I just got curious. And naturally, I began to Pull in my conversation. The interference in the environment began to fade, and I found at my disposal, the tools I needed in that moment. In the midst, I learned that leaders who are curious, are often rewarded with unexpected ideas and opportunities.
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