Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Great leaders know when to follow

Russell Press compressedSince 1997, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce has facilitated a leadership program which has graduated just over 300 alumni. While many of those who participate in the group may already be emerging as business and community leaders, Leadership Lake Norman further cultivates their business and professional skills as well as enhances their community awareness.

During an overnight retreat held at Bethelwoods (York County, SC) last fall, the group participated in team building exercises which required creative solutions to the challenges facing the group. For the last 16 years, I have been fortunate to serve as an observer as Class XVI took part in an exercise called the “Helium Stick.”

The task seemed deceptively simple as our group lined up in two rows facing each other and had to work together to lower a stick to the ground.  In this case a thin tent pole using only their fingers.  The catch was each person’s finger had to be in contact with the “helium stick” at all times.Leadership Team Building compressed

All this sounds very easy, but particularly in the early stages of the exercise, the stick has the strange habit of mysteriously rising up rather than the intended task of be lowered.

After the exercise is over, the participants are asked to share their experience and observations, specifically what happened? Why did it happen?  What changes did the group have to make to accomplish the task, and what was the take away from the activity?

I listened in as our leadership participants talked about the factors which led their eventual success: focus, patience, adjusting to each other’s strengths, heights, and most of all communicating with each other.  In this particular exercise, the group quickly learned that even the most concise and simple tasks can quickly go awry. In the workplace (and life!) great leaders must understand the proper place and time to step aside and let others lead.

I listened intently as members of last year’s program discussed what they were feeling and their own realization that, “the best leaders know when to follow and they never give up.  Perhaps most importantly, they encourage those in the group to develop their skills and lead. “Our facilitator pointed out that sometimes, the end results of our own personal and business relationships are the opposite of what we were intending.

Helium 2 cThe key is to find the balance in common goals.  The fact that everyone on your team has a clear vision of the objective is not enough, you must be able to react to a situation, using each other’s strengths, and in some cases step back and let others lead to achieve your goal.

Rev. Halford E. Luccock reminded us, “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.”

Applications for the 20013-2014 session of Leadership Lake Norman will be available via the Chamber’s website and by calling the Lake Norman Chamber at 704-892-1922 June 15.

June 5, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grandmamma’s advice

geeseWhen I was a little boy, I had a tendency to be a bit mischievous.  As hard to believe as it is, I seemed to have a knack for getting into some type of predicament. My Grandmother Russell used to say l didn’t have the sense God gave a goose.  Being the smart little lad I was at the time, I wondered why anyone would even want to be as smart as a goose.  Since then my grandmamma has passed on and I’ve grown a little older, but I’m not sure sometimes how far I’ve made it out of the mischievous state.  I did, however, do my research on this goose thing.

For instance, nearly all of us have observed geese flying south for the winter.  When they do, they fly in, a “V” formation. Did you know that flying in a “V” formation gives the whole flock a 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. What can we learn from that? People who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they want to go quicker and easier if they travel on the thrust of one another.  Another interesting thing about a goose is when the lead goose gets tired, she rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.  It pays to take turns doing hard jobs … with people, or geese flying south for the winter.  I guess the last interesting thing I found out about a goose is when a goose gets sick, or is wounded by gunshot and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follow down to protect it. They stay with it until it is either able to fly or is dead, then they launch on their own to catch up with the group.  Wouldn’t it be neat if people stood by each other like that.geese 2

Yesterday, I heard the geese high overhead. I thought about what I’d read and the number of times I heard grandmamma compare me that goose. I’m not sure how much Grandmother Russell knew about birds, but she sure knew a lot about people. More importantly, she knew a lot about mischievous little boys who didn’t have the sense of a goose.

September 12, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , | Leave a comment

A Lesson in Teamwork

     There once was a very prominent frog living at Lake Murray near Columbia.  This particular frog owned a great many lily pads there.  One day he heard about all the activity taking place at Lake Norman with the development, fishing tournaments, and the great quality of life.  He knew he just had to be a part of North Carolina’s premier region.  But how could he get up here?

     He could not hop his way up I-77.  It was simply too far.  So the frog struck up a conversation with Mr. Duck.  The frog admired the way Mr. Duck could take to the air landing pretty much where he liked.  The frog was a wise and shrewd little guy and asked Mr. Duck for a favor.  “On you next trip up North, could you drop me off at Lake Norman,” asked the frog.  “How could I,” inquired Mr. Duck.

     “You could put a stick in your beak and I will hold onto it with my mouth,” explained the frog.  “Together as a team we can sail through the sky and I can go to live at Lake Norman!”  So off they went, the duck and the frog, high above the ground.

     Just then a flock of geese flew by.  One of the geese saw the majestic duck and the little frog.  He admired such teamwork and exclaimed, “Look at that!  Who could have ever thought of such a plan?  They must have been visionary and wise beyond their years…such creativity and imagination.  I wonder who devised such a plan?

  The little frog beamed with pride.  “It was me…it was me,” he shouted as he opened his mouth and plunged to the ground below.

     The essence of teamwork is to leave self-adulation and egos at the door.  Everyone likes to be acknowledged for a job well done.  We like others to recognize the talents and skills we bring to a project.  However, the most successful ventures are when we all work together for a common goal, supporting each others actions, without striving for personal acclaim.  Past President Ronald Reagan used to have a paperweight on his desk in the Oval Office that read – “There is no limit what can be accomplished, if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”

     It was a lesson the frog should have learned before he took to the air.  It is a lesson each of us should try to practice in our daily lives.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , | Leave a comment

Running the Rapids

homeSlideshow9Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in a regional chamber of commerce activity at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.  At the conclusion of a meeting, four of us chamber execs braved the challenge and took on the whitewater course.     The center, set on the banks of the Catawba River, is Charlotte’s newest national attraction.  The Class III/IV rapids were designed to test the skill level of healthy outdoor enthusiasts.

Let’s just set the record straight.  The four chamber of commerce executives who climbed into that raft were not about to be accused of being healthy outdoor enthusiasts possessing a high degree of skill when it comes to fighting rapids.  In addition, our guide that afternoon, a young fellow named Danny, knew he had a raft full of “desk riders” strapping on their vests, armed with our mighty oars.    Danny, it turns out, was a bit of a Sadist from the moment we left the load in.  He took delight in heading straight for the most turbulent rapids and positioning our craft against the rush of water which enveloped our small raft.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Forrest Gump with Lt. Dan strapped high in the crow’s nest of the shrimping boat, taking on the onslaught of hurricane winds, you have a great mental picture of Danny.  He took great pride as members of our rubber raft were thrown in all different directions, spitting water, and rowing as if our lives depended on it.

As I look back, that experience speaks much to how we approach the challenges of our occupations.  For many years I have addressed members of our chamber of commerce at a quarterly new member orientation.  On those occasions I have likened my role at the chamber to that of a ship captain who gets his orders from the Board of Directors as to the next destination.  I plot the course and steam away, with activities on board to keep everyone (our members) entertained.ship

It is our hope, at the end of the journey, the passengers would have enjoyed the cruise so much, they make a return trip again and again.  In reality, my role is much more like the rafting excursion.  Our environment has changed dramatically over the last decade with new challenges and opportunities facing our growing region.  While we plot a course toward a planned destination, we are often met with swirling whitewater rapids. If we don’t adjust quickly, they can capsize our craft or jettison our passengers.

We must execute quick decisions, adjusting to smooth clear waters as well as running rapids.  A small lapse of attention or team members paddling out of sync could spell rough times for the organization or business.   We can pilot through the turbulent rapids, working together as a team and adjusting to the chaotic conditions which face our organizations or we can paddle through a river of doubt facing the swirling waters of constant change.  The choice is ours.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , | Leave a comment

Precious Memories

Granddaddy Russell working in his garden

Granddaddy Russell working in his garden

     A few weeks ago, a song came on the radio.  Just the few opening notes brought a warm shudder across my body    Precious Memories.  The song was a favorite of my Grandfather Russell.

     “Precious father, loving mother fly across the lonely years and old home scenes of my childhood in fond memory appear.”   I sang along and as the words rolled off my tongue, memories of years gone by played through my head.

     I spent many summer afternoons working out on the family farm with Granddaddy.  Feeding the cows, working in the garden, and tending downed fence line was an every day chore.  On one particular, hot summer day, Granddaddy and I were replacing an old rotten post down by the creek.  

     The decaying post still held the fence in place but the cows now squeezed through and occasionally were found on the other side. Granddaddy dug out a bit from the post until it rocked loosely in its hole.  He then looked over at me and asked me to go ahead and remove it.  I was perhaps twelve at the time as I wrapped my arms tightly around the pole and gave it a mighty tug.

     It raised out of the ground but suction pulled it back and it sank back to the bottom.  No matter how much I wrestled with it, I simply couldn’t free the post from the persistent ground.  Granddaddy smiled at me and asked if I was using all of my strength.  When I replied certainly I was, he chuckled a bit.

     Granddaddy, who had been leaning back on the tractor, took his gloves out of his pocket and replaced them on his old calloused hands.  “No doc,” he said, “if you used all of your strength you’d ask me to help ya’.  Working together, we can get it done.”

     Sure enough, with both of our arms tightly wrapped around the post, it hesitated, and then slipped from the earthly grip.

     The Chamber of Commerce is a powerful tool when it is used and its real strength is when businesses work together.  No doubt we face challenging months ahead with this economy.  However, we can support each other by purchasing our goods and services from one another.  Refer Chamber members to other friends and associates and make it a habit to get involved.

     We are going to continue to provide you outstanding networking opportunities and seminars that provide you the tools for your toolbox that makes you competitive.  However, you have to take advantage of your membership and get in the game, as our Chamber Chairman John Hettwer would say.  Often, we have the strength to overcome any adversity if we just realize we’re not in this thing alone.  Let’s use our greatest strength and work together.

     My Dad still lives out on the family farm tending our cows.  Occasionally, I’m asked to come down and replace another of those aging posts, many of which were put in the ground when I was a little boy.  They stand as silent sentries to my granddaddy’s hard work.

     The summer days working with my grandfather still linger in my mind.  The lessons learned flood my soul.  Those precious memories …

how they do linger.


March 12, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , | Leave a comment