Thursday, March 6, 2014

Poor guides

Lead by example, not policy

My uncle and I got stuck in an unpleasant situation during a weekend of fishing in Minnesota recently, and I was reminded what a bad leader looks like. We had to hire a leader, a guide, for the trip and boy did that backfire.

We had arrived in northern Minnesota Friday afternoon to meet the guide at a small bait shop and fishing outfitter along the highway, just out of town. My uncle lives 40 miles south in Brainerd, and though he knew some of the area, he was unclear yet on how to fish it, thus we hired the guide.

The area is lowland, mostly swampy areas and shallow lakes all around. Our plan was simple: hire a guide in the  area who would know the lakes because he lived there, go out for the day to fish, and head back to my uncle’s house that night. We hadn’t been able to get out much all winter due to all the snow and cold, so in a sense, we put all our eggs in this one basket.

On the phone we had made plans to meet the guide early in the morning and do some trout fishing. Ever fished through the ice for browns or brookies before? Well, it’s a blast. That is, unless your guide is incompetent.

We put out on the ice early, sleds in tow behind us as the sky was just lighting up over the lake, and that’s when it began. My uncle asked our guide, Ben, where we were headed, and right away you got the sense Ben had no idea what he was doing.

“Well I always try to go where the fish are,” he said with a smirk and tramped onto the lake in snowshoes...

After wandering around for a bit he lead us strait out to the middle of the lake. Hardly ever does it make sense to fish in the open middle of a lake. But, what do you say to someone who’s supposed to lead you?

Ben had an ice auger for us to use, a new fangled fancy thing with bright colors and a name like ‘ice shredder’ or something along those lines. It was so underpowered it hardly made a dent in the ice. The thing looked like it was brand new off the store floor, too.

“We’ve got an older one we brought from home in the sled here,” my uncle offered after both him and I had tried to use the useless neon tool. Ben seemed offended by that, standing there watching us work.

“Well our service doesn’t really want clients using their own powered equipment,” said Ben. “Some liability issue. It’s a policy.”

I exchanged a surprised look with my uncle, you know the one that says ‘ok buddy…'

So we struggled on with Ben’s junky machine (if you can call it that). Struggle was really the word for it, because I shoveled off the ice each spot we drilled while my uncle worked the shredder. We had to lay out our own pattern of holes, out there awkwardly in the middle of the lake, our guide just poked around with his gear and rambled on about all the fish he has caught. The animosity was mounting.

“My step-father started this rinky dink guide thing a few years ago and put me in charge…” Ben meandered into his life story. “It’s not really my thing but after I lost my job in The Cities I had to come back up here. He put me up in a house. It’s gross there, and the people in town are all neanderthals."

By the time we had some holes in and our jig poles rigged up, both my uncle and I were wondering why we were even out there with Ben. He was no fishing guide and he certainly wasn’t a leader. When one of us would suggest maybe trying along the shoreline Ben would reply with some snappy comment about how if we didn’t want his advice on where to fish he would head home.

I mean, what is that all about? Who treats people like that?

I think some people have a misconception about the roles they take on in life. People can get bitter when opportunities don’t fall in their lap, but the healthy choice then is to work towards what you want, to work on a better version of yourself.

We get better by improving ourselves and then using that improvement to help other people take steps towards their goals. By working together in this fashion, everyone not only gets what they want, but learns to serve others around them, and that’s what it’s really all about, serving.

Find the servant in your own heart and listen to that voice. If you don’t you risk becoming the sort of person who’s scared of change. If you’re fighting only for yourself and your position in this world you will end up a bitter person with few friends and a long list of burnt bridges behind you.

Lead by example, be responsible for your actions, listen to others so you can help them. Helping builds trust, and trust builds meaningful lives and fulfilling relationships.

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.


  1. Seth,
    When your column began to appear in the local paper, the term "folk philosopher" in your subtitle, by-line, or whatever-that-is-called struck me as presumptuous. I suspect that I was put off by your youthfulness. Sorry about that. Today's column is clear evidence that philosophy as practiced by common folk irrespective of age provides the tools with which to weather the craziness, for want of a better word, of those with whom is shared a common space. Hopefully, such folks are few and far between, whereas fellow philosophers masquerading as regular folk people our common space in abundance.

  2. Mr. Keye, thanks for writing. The terminology I've used to describe myself and this project has, from the begining always been meant to suggest I am a student of culture and life's processes, nothing more. You've illustrated my point in this particular article quite gracefully and I appreciate that.