Here’s a corporate bedtime story about a Montana forest fire in 1949. The crew chief, a firefighter named Wagner Dodge, leads fifteen “smokejumpers” into the fire. The story is excerpted from Leadership Presence, a handbook for shy executives.
“Dodge and his men parachuted into a place called Mann Gulch to get ahead of the fire. Suddenly the wind picked up, and the fire jumped a river. It came at them so fast they couldn’t outrun it. Dodge had an idea. If they lit a little fire and let it burn ahead of them, then they could lie down in the burned area left by their fire and let the main fire burn around them. Dodge lit the fire and jumped into the burned patch, motioning his men to follow him. But his men ignored him and ran up the gulch. A wet towel wrapped around his head, his body pressed to the charred ground, Dodge survived the flames that passed over him only seconds later. All but two of his men died. . .
If you’re the leader and you’re right, but nobody follows you, you’re a failure.”
–Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, “Leadership Presence”
I never learned how to dance this way. I have been told that I don’t follow well. I have an irresistible urge to lead. Guys don’t like it. Or maybe they don’t dislike it, but it throws them off. No one is born knowing how to box step. It’s a learned behavior. And if you don’t like it, it’s easy to live an entire lifetime with ever having to do it. Even at weddings. Ah, freedom. Simple and elegant. A flag off the porch.