Volume 11, Issue 1 - January/February 2010

A Manager's View

The World’s Strongest Man
by Keith Castleman

My dad was a lot like most dads: he was the strongest person I’ve ever known. When I say strong, I don’t necessarily mean physically (he is a big man, though) as much as emotionally. For some reason I got the unique privilege of working on our farm with him every weekend when I was a kid while my older siblings usually got the privilege of sleeping in. My brother somehow convinced my dad that he was allergic to hay. I still think my brother was fake-sneezing all those times just to get out of work, but he got away with it, so good for him.

One particular Saturday, my dad decided that we needed to burn some big piles of brush. What this means is that my dad would drive around all over those 1,000 acres on a tractor doing nothing while I stood by the burning pile of branches and made sure the fire kept burning. We were doing this in the SUMMER … in ARKANSAS. The town I grew up in was named Clarksville, but in August you might as well call it Sweatville and, if you look for it on a map, you can find it about 10 miles north of Hell. That being said, my father figured this particular August day would be a great day to start a fire.

We got out there around 8 a.m. and started the fire and, at around 9 a.m. my dad went somewhere on the tractor and left me to attend to the fire. Naturally I got thirsty around 9:01 and went to the truck to get a drink of water. Well, one drink turned into two and then three and then, around 10 a.m., I wondered what would happen if I just dumped out all the water. Around 10:30, I heard the tractor coming back and I looked over my shoulder to watch my dad head for the truck to grab our water jug.

“Hey, Keith, come over here for a minute,” he yelled at me from about 50 yards away. At this moment I stayed as close to the fire as I could to make sure I looked like I was about to have a heat stroke.

When I finally made it over to him I said, “Boy, Dad, sure is hot out here today.”

“Son, why did you drink all the water?” he questioned.

“That was ALL the water?” I tried to sound equal parts surprised and exhausted and desperate for more water.

“Come on, let’s get that fire under control and head back to the house,” he replied.

He didn’t know it, but I was way ahead of him. I had spent the last half hour getting the fire ready to put out so we could leave quickly, which we did. When we got back to the house, we woke up my brother and sister and, the next thing you know, my old man was asleep in his chair. The whole day slipped away and we never had to go back out into the inferno for the rest of the weekend.

The next Saturday I once again found myself getting my work clothes on and going to burn fallen trees. The day started exactly the same way. Fire started, dad drove off on the tractor and I dump out all the water. This time, though, he came back a little bit quicker and went straight for the truck. “Hey son, looks like you’re out of water,” he yelled as he held up the empty jug. “Good thing I brought my own water this week!” In that instant he reached behind the seat and pulled out another jug that he took with him on his tractor as he drove off. That day was as close as I’ve ever come to a heat stroke. We worked on that farm all afternoon in ridiculous heat and by noon I was drinking stagnant water from a pond.

Yes, he was the strongest man I’ve ever met. He was the leader of our family in every aspect. He was very decisive and there was no thought of questioning him … ever … for any reason … even if he was wrong. Yet while there were occasions when I would be furious with his decisions, I found a great deal of comfort in knowing that he was always doing what he thought was best for me. I knew that he loved me and that he only wanted great things for me. I suppose he pulled that water gag to teach me to not take an easy way out, or to have a great work ethic, or maybe even to never burn brush in August in Arkansas. Whichever it was, I’m sure in his mind he thought he was teaching me some sort of life lesson.

I see businesses today all over the country that are still managing to thrive and be profitable even in today’s economy. The one thing that they all have in common is a really strong leader. These times require the best leadership and, in almost every case, the businesses with the strongest leaders are the most successful. In many of these cases, the leaders push their employees very hard; they demand performance and are not the least bit afraid of anything that might come their way. The weaker employees complain and resist and disappear while the people who want to be successful respond and push themselves harder and harder and get better and better. The fact is that good people respond to strong leadership as long as they know you have their best interest at heart—even if you do take their water away every now and then.

Keith Castleman is manager of 84 Lumber in Blue Springs, Mo. Mr. Castleman’s opinions are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.


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