Northeast Tennessee

Thirty Steps: Lesson 1—Grab the Rope

CSAUP Events Northeast Tennessee Johnson City Erwin Kingsport

My favorite evolution of the GoRuck event required the extraction and delivery of a package—a very large tree log floating in a small nook behind a marina on the Tennessee River. It was probably 18-20 feet in length, robust and awkward, with knots and a slight of a bow—water logged. It was at the bottom of a rocky 30-foot embankment, not easily accessible—floating just outside arms reach. It’s as if the log was daring us to retrieve it from the cold water, knowing if we were able to get it up the embankment, it would have the final laugh.

My initial thought at the sight of the package—no way. Even if we could get it out of the water, getting it up the steep, rocky embankment would be an even greater challenge. We had single rope wrapped around and hooked on a knot, but footing was poor. Moving the 1,000lb log up the rocky embankment was not only challenging, but also dangerous. The further up the log moved, the greater the risk if it rolled back down.

There were multiple suggestions for retrieving the log—get guys in the water and lift it out, drag it straight up over the debris to the sidewalk, guide it through the water 15-20 yards to a spot with a better path and pull it up the embankment. I suggested we guide it in the water past the marina and around the shoreline to the boat ramp where it could be more easily managed. Multiple options, each with varying risks and reward.

Naturally, I thought my idea was the better option of the four. It would take a little longer, but the risks if injury were much smaller. Once we navigated the log to the ramp then we had more men to drag, lift, and carry the log out—which we all knew was coming. My suggestion was not the one selected. This brought me the first three key lessons I internalized on this evolution:

Once the mission is set, grab the rope and pull.

This principle was discussed during GrowSchool earlier in the day. We have a mission—to plant, grow, and serve small workout groups for the invigoration of male community leadership. To accomplish this mission, the men of F3 must be in the boat, rowing in the same direction. That doesn’t always happen. Some do not row at all. Others row, but not in the same direction. As leaders of respective regions, it is our responsibility to articulate the mission of F3 and influence men to not only row, but also row in the same direction.

While the mission is set, the strategies used to achieve the mission are not. In the context of retrieving the log, the mission was to get the beast from the watery depths to the sidewalk—there were multiple strategies on the table. Mine was not chosen. I had a choice to make. Let the ones who chose this strategy be the ones who pull the log up the embankment (stop rowing), argue more passionately about the merits of my idea (row in the opposite direction), or grab rope and pull (row in the same direction)—I grabbed the rope and pulled.

I was reminded that sometimes leadership is demonstrating the ability to follow.

That’s not something I’ve done much of since planting F3 Northeast Tennessee. There are few things in life I care enough about to take responsibility for the outcome—bringing F3 to Northeast Tennessee is one.

Perhaps it was somewhat selfish. While the move to Johnson City was the best decision for my family, I also didn’t want to leave that part of my life behind in Lexington. I observed the impact F3 has had on the lives of men—I observed the impact F3 had on me as an individual through the men of F3 Lexington. I wanted that for Northeast Tennessee, my new community.

I commit to few things, but when I do—I commit. Which is why I have not spent much time following over the past 18 months. I was determined to take responsibility for the outcome—bringing F3 to Northeast Tennessee. That included not only setting the mission, but also the strategy. I wanted things done a certain way. I wanted to build a culture that reflects my interpretation of F3.

That may have been necessary to plant and grow F3 Northeast Tennessee, but as the GrowRuck experience taught me—that time has passed.

Retrieving the log from the river reminded me of the need to not only lead, but also follow. Servant leadership—the component of F3’s mission I seem to struggle with the most. At the GoRuck event, being a leader meant grabbing the rope and pulling. Returning home, leadership isn’t grabbing the rope—it’s letting it go of the rope and trusting others with the outcome.

There are many leaders among the men of F3 Northeast Tennessee—this became fully evident during the GoRuck event. I haven’t given them enough latitude to exercise their leadership potential. As a leader, I must acknowledge, give it a voice, and adjust course.

The second lesson I learned—bear each other’s burden, 30 paces at a time.

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