Experiences and Choices Shape Leadership

Experience and choices shape leadership. Some experiences are chosen and others seem to land on us without much choice. As we look back at life, we can begin to see how we’ve been shaped by both the school of hard knocks and our chosen response to these bruises.

Oklahoma Land Rush

Oklahoma land rush

I was raised by the descendants of pioneers. The Oklahoma land rush started in 1889 and a couple of my relatives were among the group making a made dash to stake their claim. The settlers were required to improve the land and live there for a period of time. There was a reason that they were giving the land away for free. It was a rough life. Children died of illnesses, doctors were several hours or days away, and there wasn’t a home depot on every corner. My great grandparents stacked one flat rock upon another one and built a half dugout home and corral. The land is still in our family today. I’m the fourth generation. Here’s what it looks like today.

What the homestead looks like today.

Americans compared to other cultures are an independent culture. Pioneers are even more independent. An independent upbringing reinforced a sense of rugged independence.

I remember when I was around 9 years old, I told my Grandfather that I wanted to be in the rodeo. He said, “Great, there’s a cow out in the lot. Why don’t you get started this afternoon”. Where were my “not so protective” parents. I guess if your a descendant of pioneers, they expect you to exercise independent judgement. I guess this was my vision of what was about to happen.

bull riding

What I thought was about to happen

Somehow I managed to jump onto the back of the pink eye cow. By the way, for all you city slickers, “pink eye” is an eye illness described here by Wikipedia.

But back to the story, I’m now on the back of the pink eyed cow. I’m sure it was quite shocking for the cow, having no predators who had ever managed to leap onto it’s back. The cow didn’t seem too excited. It ducked its head and I slid off the front into a big pile of cow manure. As I washed myself in the horse trough, I reflected upon this life lesson. That was the beginning and ending of my rodeo career. I’m sure it served as good farm humor for my grandfather. For me, it helped shape a perspective on experiencing the consequences of my own choices and actions. I had no one to blame. I made the choice and the bruises were natural law consequences of those actions.

By the way, it was one of several experiences that eventually convinced me that I wasn’t much of a country guy. I’m more of a city slicker. Sorry pioneers of the past, I’m a city slicker pioneer now! In a future blog post I’ll tell you about the city slicker kid vs. a bunch of scary rats. That was my second traumatic, “let’s move to the city” story.

As a leader, some lessons have fallen into our lap or over the head of an unsuspecting pink eyed cow. While other experiences can be orchestrated purposefully to engineer the leadership skills required to create the future.