Taming a Bulldozer

This is a bit of a response to my friend Nish's post Smooth me out, Soften me up. Let me first say that this post is a great example of why I love her writing. More than that, she is a really great person.

This post. Wow.

This idea of being reshaped and having rough edges smoothed-out has been a recurring theme in my life for nearly half of my 37 years. The first really clear awareness is from sometime in college. I was probably around 20 and I was the student director for a campus ministry group called Campus Crusade for Christ. I had sort of inherited the role when the previous director stepped down and then the next guy in line rather abruptly left campus to get married.

I don't think I had any sort of real qualification to be doing any of this, but there I was. I had been leading our team for a year or so when a staff advisor that we borrowed from Oregon State University just down the road said something to me. He said that as a leader, I was like a bulldozer. He said it was clear that I usually had a very firm idea about where we were going and that my default method for dealing with things was to push any and all obstacles (usually people) out of the way.

I can't tell you how true that metaphor has proven over the last 17 years.

That conversation was really hard for me. No one likes to be told that they push people around. Seems like a pretty loose definition of "bully" when you think about it.

My wife says I can almost always find a way to make something happen if I really want it. She doesn't mean it as a compliment.

I think it's important to know that I don't blindly push towards stubborn ideas. I rarely make big decisions without considering quite a few possible outcomes. Usually, this means I've mentally been through a few failure scenarios already and have constructed a vision that seems likely to succeed. I try to think through these things so I don't have to fail as much in real life. Because of this, I usually feel like I've got a good handle on "the right way" to do something pretty early on, and am not as receptive to different strategies or ideas.

Being a husband and a father challenges this on so many levels. While there is still great room for me to be a forward thinker and a planner, there often isn't a lot of time or space to wait until ideas are complete and vetted. In addition, my wife has great insight - often times much better than mine. Not listening to her opinion can prove quite problematic. Also, my kids often don't care if they are doing things "the right way".

The rest of life is like that too. Coworkers, employees, clients, friends, acquaintances- None of them like it when you ignore their ideas. I've head-learned so many great things about making sure people know they are more important than your plans and ideas, but it is still so hard to consistently follow through.

If Nish feels like a cheese grater, then I often feel like a giant yellow Bulldozer.

But I'm pretty sure there's hope.

All those years ago I was obliviously just pushing stuff around and rolling right over the top of anything that wouldn't be pushed. Throughout the years I've learned to use a broader arsenal of tools and to push with the bulldozer only when it really makes sense.

I'm hopeful that my inclination to focus on vision can keep being refined into a beautiful character trait that serves God, my family and our world without a lot of collateral damage.