As a boy I read the story of Jesus walking on the water in Matthew 14: 22-33, I understood why Jesus could walk on water. It was a puzzle to me why Peter (Petra: the rock) got out of the boat and did the same. Then Peter got distracted, lost focus, and started to sink.
Recently, I read this bible story again. Now I understand Peter’s choice; it was a leader’s choice.
The disciples in the boat were fearful because of the storm and because they thought Jesus was a ghost. Jesus said, “Fear not, be courageous it is me.” Peter said “Jesus if you want me to come to you say so.” Peter was the only disciple to get out of the boat. He did not care what the others thought. He got out in the boat during stormy weather. No other disciple followed him. Peter became distracted and began to sink. Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter. I think part of Peter’s distraction was the doubt of the disciples in the boat. I can hear the other disciples. “Peter you are crazy.” “Peter you cannot do this.” “You are making the rest of us look bad.” “Get back into the boat.” “You will fail.” “We do not do things this way.” “This is not part of our tradition” This is what prompted Jesus to say, “Oh you of little faith.” I think Jesus’s comment was to the disciples that stayed in the boat.
How does this story relate to leadership?
It takes courage to get out of the boat. Leadership is a personal choice. Leaders step out of the boat and walk a different path because leaders think differently. A Leader’s actions will cause distractions and problems they must overcome if they want to accomplish their goals.
Case in point, I was the restaurant manager at the Ramada Inn Downtown in Tuscaloosa. The owner, Mr. E., gave me a choice. He said I could become the General of the Ramada Inn South today; or, I could wait a couple of months to be the General Manager of his new motel in Birmingham. I immediately told him I wanted to manage the new motel.
The offer to manage the motel Birmingham was not a surprise. For several months I was thinking about the Birmingham move and the learning experience it would give me. The surprise was the choice between an established motel and a new adventure. The choice might have been a distraction; but, I knew my objective. This made the decision easy and quick.
This Birmingham choice gave me a chance to start a new project from the ground up. To supervise the final stages of construction. To hire all the employees and managers. To line up all the venders. To supervise the final setup of the motel rooms, restaurant, lounge, kitchen, and banquet rooms. To create a new operation, a new boat.
My choice was very different than the Tuscaloosa motel choice. I was the auditor and restaurant manager at the Ramada Inn South prior to my current job. I knew the employees and managers at the Ramada South. I could just show up and just take the responsibility. All the players were in place. I knew the customers and the operation. This choice was not getting out of the boat it was getting back into a boat I knew.
My choice to get out of the boat, to create a new boat was a good choice. The opening of the new motel was hectic, nasty, busy, and frustrating.
One Friday I came home early. I told Emily not to talk to me. I told her I was losing it. My mind and body was worn out. I went to bed. Monday I was back on the job. I had lost my concentration and focus. I was sinking. It took me the week-end to regain my spirit and my courage.
I made this choice in 1972. I came back to Tuscaloosa in 1999. Earl, the General Manager who took the other job in 1972, was still at the Ramada Inn South. I met Earl a few years later at a service station. He told me he was the manager of the service station. I asked what happened. He said, “Mr. E. sold the motel and I lost my job. “ This could have been me.
Instead my choice to create a new boat in 1972, to take a chance on faith, having courage that I could do something different, something challenging, made my life different.
Since 1972, I managed two more motels, was a management trainee at a large bakery, and a Territory Sales Manager for Ecolabs. In 1978, I joined Alabama Power Company. I served Alabama Power as a Junior Account, District Accounting Manager, Business Office Manager, Assistant Customer Service Manager, and Dispatch Supervisor at a Division Control Center. My life is very different because of the choice I made when I was twenty-five years old.
Here is what I learned to do each time I stepped out of the boat. I had to overcome all kinds of distractions. Distractions from employees that reported to me. Distractions from my managers. Distractions from my peers. The key was to keep remembering why I got out of the boat. I fostered all my courage not to get back in the boat with others. How easy it would be to just sit and let the boat carry me along. I kept my focus. I learned how to handle failure and success. Sometimes, I reached out for spiritual help to keep from sinking. These out of the boat experiences makes my life a journey of learning.
In the end, being a leader is its own reward. It matters to leaders that they think differently. That they follow the path their desires and principles lead them down. A path that leads to their self-actualization.
A leader becomes a Petra, a rock.