Friday, November 21, 2014

How Might We?

Needle and thread
(Photo credit: Hemera Technologies)
How Might We?
by Jay Stalnacker

I’ve been sewing since I was a young boy. At first, I was embarrassed to share this as I grew up within the typical adolescent male driven world but later realized it as an invaluable skill.

I remember coming into my grandmother's house with torn pants from a game of street football. We played tackle on the asphalt between parked cars and unrelenting traffic. Out of bounds was typically associated with a serious injury and thank goodness it was before car alarms. My grandmother was use to sewing tears, rips and patches on our clothes But this time she sat me and my cousin Teddy down and was intent on teaching us to sew. She started by reminding us that she had to sew her own dresses as a child, and there was no quick run to a Walmart. Money was tight during the depression; and if you wanted something, you had to make it. The simple stitch she showed us that day would serve me well. I have probably used it a thousand times, sewing buttons, patches, parachutes and skin. It was a magical secret she shared with us that would open the door to so many interesting conversations, opportunities and occasional solutions.

I’ve sewed off and on for many years after that first lesson; but until I was a jumper, I had no idea how much my grandmother's lesson would have so many life applications. I remember walking into the Grangeville jump base sewing room for the first time. No rookie was allowed to touch anything without asking first; so the constant temptation to get in there was a rookie trap for trouble. There was Gore-Tex, nylon, canvas and all kinds of webbing and p-cord laying everywhere. For many of us, it was a artist studio awaiting our ideas of creating better line packs, rain gear and wallets. As the season progressed, we were eventually allowed into the sewing room. Soon we would be making parachutes, packs and repairing Nomex. Some just didn’t enjoy the down time work, but I greatly appreciated the opportunity to help out and let my creative juices flow. The importance of our sewing was just as life-critical as fighting fire. We would be jumping out of planes trusting the repair sewn into our chute would hold. It was great to be part of the conversations and creativity to design new, better and safer gear and equipment. The conversation always started with “how might we…”

Kerry, our leadership instructor, struck a note with me the first day of class as he used that phrase over and over. It brought back memories of the jump base and listening to my grandmother as she shared her sewing secrets and stories of family and life. Sewing brought us together as a family and a bunch of jumpers. The amazement of creating, repairing and improving something by stitching together random patterns and pieces is something that reminds me of leadership.

As leaders we start with identifying needs, developing new ideas, and like sewing sometimes repairing tears. It always begins with the first stitch. This one is the anchor and knot that if done improperly will always bind you up. I look at the leader as the first stitch. My grandmother shared that there are many ways to stitch, but the key is a good anchor knot. Every leader has their own methods, traits and weakness. A great leader anchors themselves so that the stitching will have a strong start. The next step is the accurate stitching of the seam. You try to keep it neat, straight and strong. This is the leader's role to guide, coach and mentor. Sometimes it also requires pulling some thread and cutting out some tangles. The finish stitch is the most important. You have to tie off that thread. You have to make sure that all your work when tested with the pulling and grabbing doesn’t fall apart and tear open. A leader will double back that last stitch. We must create resiliency within a program so when the patch begins to tear, the whole parachute will not fall apart.

I challenge each of you to embrace your role as a leader this week. Make your repairs, create new ideas and improve existing plans. Begin to sew your way towards a strong and resilient future one stitch at a time.

Jay C Stalnacker

Jay Stalnacker is a regular contributor to this blog. Adapted and reprinted with permission by Jay Stalnacker, FMO Boulder County Sheriff's Office, from his blog "The North Star Foundation." All expressions are those of the author.

No comments: