The Call of Leadership

My initiation into leadership began on a cold Alberta night in 2011. At the time, I was working on a drilling rig southwest of Grand Prairie. The crew of men I worked with were all close with each other, we genuinely gave a shit about each other – which, in an industry like that, is rare.

Late one evening, nearing the end of the shift, a piece of equipment became caught on a metal cable and came careening down to the ground with an incredible amount of force. The piece of metal struck my friend, who was standing beside me, in the head.

As I turned around I saw him lying there, another man by his side, I ran got a compress bandage applied it to the left side of his head, where there was a large bleeding wound. Blood was coming out of his ears, and nose as his body went into shock. I had never seen this kind of carnage in real life – only on the TV screen. It had taken me a few minutes to sink in what was happening, we called for help and the paramedics were on their way. Our crew of men got him safely onto a stretcher and into the waiting vehicle, and he was a taken to a hospital for emergency brain surgery.

The following day was one of mental anguish, grief, and pain. I had to sit at work with nothing to do to but wait for the occupational health and safety officer to arrive to interview me. As I sat alone, I was consumed by the anguish caused by thinking about my friend’s life hanging in the balance. I was tortured by the guilt I felt that somehow I was responsible for this, that I had let him down.

Men bond by working together, and there was no one closer to me at that time then the men I worked with. The work was hard and the days were long, but the men on my crew cared for and supported each other the best way they knew how. These men were my family, and my mind was tormented as the life of one them hung in the balance.

I couldn’t sleep well at night. I had recurring dreams of a raven carrying a skull away from me. I was terrified. I did not know what this meant. In the moment, I had interpreted it as meaning that death was near. I was convinced that my friend would die.

I felt so helpless, unable to do anything as my friend lay in a hospital bed in Edmonton undergoing emergency brain surgery. My mind vacillated between running away, escaping the situation entirely, or violently lashing out at others for the tragedy that I had just witnessed. I felt had to do something… I could not be idle. The grief was too much to bear.

So I began to pray. In my mind, I began to repeat the line “please let him live” for hours. I must have appeared strange to the men around me, sitting on the cold metal floor of the rig with my eyes closed and my hands clasped in front of my face, but in that moment I didn’t care how I appeared to others.

After four or five hours of repeating this prayer, a voice answered me with a question…

“What are you willing to give?”

I hesitated for a moment, but I new I had to answer this question. I replied, “my life”. I had become willing to trade spots with him, I was completely willing to die in this moment. I had completely surrendered.

I hesitated for a moment, but I new I had to answer this question. I replied, “my life”. I had become willing to trade spots with him, I was completely willing to die in this moment. I had completely surrendered.

My friend survived and began a long arduous road to recovery. This was pivotal moment in my development as man, the psychological “heat” of the event had cooked away a part of me. It had cooked the part of me that was convinced that existence was happening to me. It washed away a large part of my naive story about the nature of existence, which I had falsely believed was suffering. This change was sudden, I felt the pain of existence so intensely I was willing to die, and in that moment, I let go fully.

I realized that my internal suffering was connected to the belief in my own special-ness – the idea that I didn’t need anyone because distrust was planted firmly in my psyche. This belief allowed me to put up walls in my mind. I thought if I tolerated any amount of discomfort, I would not have to rely on anyone. Ever.

The intensity of the pain I felt had knocked the pride out of me. I could no longer maintain the illusion that I was separate from everyone else.

Prior to this incident, I had not been taking my life seriously. This tragic event was a painful reminder of the fragility of life. It was a stark reminder of the fact of death, something everyone has to face.

In my own mind I had not acknowledged the true reality of death until I saw my friend come close to losing his life. This event was a pivotal moment for me as a man, I had to face the truth that every action I took that day, in some way, lead up to the accident. I had to come to terms with the immensity of the burden called responsibility. Part of me wanted to run away, part of me wanted blame others, but I could not run away and there was no one to blame. I had to stare death in the eyes.

What does all of this have to do with leadership?

Prior to this watershed moment in my life my style of management was controlling. I wanted people to do exactly as I wished and nothing else. I hadn’t yet developed the ability to put my faith in others. I could not figure out why everyone else was so damn useless. I was a distrustful man. For the distrustful man the world is in rebellion.

I did not know how to let go and trust others. I was two hundred pound man child – the epitome of the immature masculine.

All relationships are reciprocal. Like a father and son relationship, the flow of responsibility needs to move both ways in order to have a mutually beneficial relationship. This bond of trust exists within all relationships, whether they be professional, familial, or romantic. By not fully trusting others I was continually breaking this bond of trust.

I would often project my judgments onto my work mates. “He’s weak” or “he is ignorant” were my mantras. After the accident I could no longer divide others from myself. Their weakness became my weakness, and my ignorance became their ignorance. I vowed never to break this bond of trust again.

If a man’s pride or arrogance dominates him, he can never truly become responsible for others. His relationship with his teammates will be haunted by distrust and suspicion. For me to learn this lesson and start taking my life seriously, it took almost losing one of my brothers. It brought to me the meaning of hope.

The Meaning of Hope

In Greek mythology, Prometheus had stolen fire from the supreme God, Zeus. Angered by this, Zeus then created a box which contained all types of evils (a symbol for the inherent malice of the human psyche). Pandora opened the box and released all of these evils into the world. At the bottom of the box was the spirit of Hope – a healing spirit. Hope has the power to bring resilience to humans, even when the the situation seems doomed. I believe Hope is the spirit that came to me that day while I prayed.

During the months that would follow, my outlook on life began to slowly shift in a more positive direction.

I gave up binge drinking.

I began to read vigorously and weight train.

These lifestyle changes required less will power than they had in the past. My internal compass had shifted. Before that day I was motivated by a sense of lack in my life – lack of money, lack of meaningful relationships. After that day I was motivated by a sense responsibility – I began to crave it. Soon after this internal shift came the external changes.

These lifestyle changes required less will power than they had in the past. My internal compass had shifted. Before that day I was motivated by a sense of lack in my life – lack of money, lack of meaningful relationships. After that day I was motivated by a sense responsibility – I began to crave it.

I was selected for a promotion.

My life took on a new meaning fuelled direction by the recognition of true responsibility.

The biggest lesson I learned from that time in my life is that life is precious and it can end in the blink of eye.

We tend to go about our day to day lives like there is nothing important riding on it, but there is. I learned to not hold back, to say what I mean to other people in my life, and to speak my truth. Truth is, after all, the most powerful antidote to death. Not physical death, but the “death” of not being awake to one’s own life and the lives of those around us.

Responsibility is what makes a leader someone who is willing to fight for everyone despite their perceived value, or how they show up in the eyes of the team. To see the best in them and to hold hope for them in their heart, even when it seems impossible.

And as I continue to grow as a man, leader, and men’s coach, I feel an ever growing sense of responsibility for myself and others around me. This responsibility brings with it a sense of freedom and fulfilment that I could not have imagined in my younger life. The biggest lesson I learned from my days in the energy sector is to be total with everyone and everything because you never know when this precious journey called life will end.

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