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 realize 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 specialness – 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.