Byron's Babbles

Knowing The Water

Yesterday I assumed the role of Chair of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) Board of Directors. The day before, in a meeting, I was introduced with the byline that in 24 hours I would be taking the helm. I’m not sure why, but I shivered a little at this. I even said, “I’m not sure what to think about that.” Then, our NASBE Northeastern Area Director, Dr. Audrey Noble (Delaware State Board of Education member) who is an avid boater/sailor said, “You’ll be fine. The key to success at helm is about knowing the water, and you know it well.” She had made a powerful statement there and had said a lot.

Later, as I reflected on that interaction, I remembered an awesome story that came out of World War II. And, of course, the story involves the great leader and 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The story goes that he went to the tent where his soldiers were mapping out a location for the troops to cross a river. Eisenhower pointed at a spot on the map and said, “We will cross here.” One of his troops said, “We cannot cross there, Sir.” Eisenhower asked why not. They told him they were not sure how deep the water was. Eisenhower pointed to his dampened pants leg and said, “It is this deep.” Clearly, he “knew the water.” Eisenhower had taken the time to actually get his feet wet and know where he was sending his troops.

Leadership by example and working shoulder to shoulder with those you serve continue to be the most successful forms of leadership. These concepts can take many different forms, but is expressed well with the phrase that is on a picture that hangs in my den, “Walk The Talk.” Walking the talk is one of my core values. It really speaks to the fact that our character is our legacy. If we say we believe or will act in a certain way, then our actions should prove that. I blogged about this in Walk the Talk!

A helmsman relies on his knowledge of the water he is in, visual references, GPS, other technological tools, and a rudder angle indicator to steer a steady course. Leading in an organization is no different. One must “know the water.”

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