Gannets and gaffer tape

Photo of two gannets flyingOh dear, I’ve had my first mini blog-row with Ian (husband).  Which went something along the lines of me asking for feedback, him saying the post (the two feet one) was disjointed and rather boring, and me getting cloth ears about it.   However, the good news is that he has nearly finished pruning the pear trees.

So on with the next post then.

Now I do seem to quite often start a blog post by referencing Alison Chisnell’s HR Juggler blog, and this is no exception.  Alison recently wrote about an outdoor development course she once did in northern Scotland, and about the leadership lessons she took from that experience. That reminded me of something.

Are you sitting comfortably?

The PuffInn pub on St Kilda

Now, I have to rewind a bit here.  So, you may or may not know, but I have done a little bit of sailing over the last 12 years.  Back in 2003 I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend and his son to go sailing for two weeks in northern Scotland.  It was an awesome trip: I got to be skipper on alternate days, and one of the highlights was navigating from Barra in the Outer Hebrides over to St Kilda.  St Kilda is a collection of huge lumps of rock, with some sneaky beaky defence people plus someThe bay in St Kilda woolly jumpered nature folks, and one pub (The PuffInn), and shitloads of gannets (literally): all heaped together 60 miles off the Scottish mainland.

I’ve gone off track.  Sorry.

Back to outdoor adventure schools

My friend’s son had worked as an instructor at John Ridgeway’s Adventure School. I think that this was one of the first such outfits in this country.  John Ridgeway is an ex para, who has done all kinds of amazing things in his life, and he started the centre 40 years ago.  I’m not sure if this is the same place as where Alison’s rock climbing took place.  But it may have been.

I’m finally getting to the point

My friend and his son showed me (they told me too, but more than that, they showed me) that what they’d learnt from John was not just an ability to be very tough and resilient, but they’d learnt a saying that John had:

Always leave people and places better than you found them.

Mending stuff

We had chartered a yacht for our 2 weeks.  Charter yachts are like hire cars.  They are never perfect.  Stuff on boats always goes wrong – mainly because there’s lots of metal  parts that are in contact with sea water and banging about a lot. Not a good recipe.  And no one loves a hire boat, right?  People usually leave them in a bit of a state at the end of a trip, and hand in a list of complaints to the charter company about things that don’t work.  But one thing I noticed with my friends was that during the trip they would fix stuff.  Mend a broken handle, put gaffer tape on a sticky out bit of metal.  That kind of thing.  And whilst working away, they’d mutter “always leave people and places better than you found them‘.  And at the end of the holiday, we did a super job of cleaning the boat.

Why I like it

I found that saying memorable.  I don’t think it’s trite. It’s just a positive, helpful attitude to have.  And it is practical too. It’s stuck with me ever since.  And it is something that I try to think about in my work.  I’m never been one to stay more than 4 years in a job: I like variety and I like exploring.  But I really do hope that I do my little bit to leave people and places where I work better than I found them.

Postscript: to avoid another blog-row I must add that Ian will, quite rightly, state that I do not practice what I preach when it comes to cooking.  The washing up situation afterwards is NOT better than I found it.

15 thoughts on “Gannets and gaffer tape

  1. nice! I like the saying, and I wish more people did just that. unfortunately, too many disinterested service people leave me cross, dispirited and muttering, rather than “better”. However, when I recover, I also remember something that’s served me very well – “people behave the way they do for a reason.” I may do a blog on that sometime….

  2. Hey Flora – yes, it really was the John Ridgeway Adventure School we went to. He led us in most of the activities of the week and often repeated the mantra about leaving things better than you find them.
    Fab post as usual…well done. Oh, and hi Ian! *waves* 🙂

  3. Karen, Linda, Alison, thanks so much for commenting.
    Karen – I look forward to your post on why people behave the way they do!
    And Alison, I can’t wait to swap Ridgeway and far north of Scotland stories.
    Linda – get to sleep lady 🙂 !

  4. Love this. Simple as this may be, I can think of so many situations where this could apply, and it’s entirely within our own control.
    Possibly leaving the washing up is developmental for the other person?!!

  5. By patching things up you sometimes just mask the real problem. You see this in operational parts of businesses all of the time – people work around an issue making their bit better, unaware of the downstream implications. One persons helpful attempt to make things better is another persons interfering busy body.

    • Thanks for commenting Rick. Your point is well made. I know what you are getting at, but isn’t that particular problem one of poor management and organisational structure and confusion over processes, and competence? I’m all for digging down to the root of problems. But a little helpful patch here and there doesn’t go amiss either. To go back to my sailing story – it would be very strange to expect my pals to lift the engine out of its block and give it a service, but a small patch such as mending a bucket is not going to have the charter company complaining that they had interfering busy bodies on the boat. On the contrary, the charter company were always delighted to have my friends as customers, and they had built up a long standing relationship.

      I think that if I let myself be held back by fear e.g. that my efforts are not adequate, and for fear of being judged by others as an interfering busy body, then my life will become rather constrained. I learned yesterday from an amazing guy at an unconference that doing things in life from a position of love is a whole lot better than doing things from a place of fear. But each to their own.

      • I couldn’t agree with your third sentance more.
        Even fixing buckets is problematic, though. If the next person is carrying hot water and your fix gives way, who is to blame (I know that shouldn’t be important, but it is)?
        Maybe its just the places bit I don’t like. I agree that we should try to leave people better than we find them (although we can argue about what that means), and I certainly think we should accept that people behave the way they do for a reason. The world would be a much better place if there was more empathy.

  6. A comment delayed by a lunatic schedule last week but here goes:

    This got me thinking about stewardship and the forgotten link between rights and responsibilities. It also reminded me how good sailing is for learning about leadership.

    I like the idea of stewardship but have always been a bit uncomfortable with the slightly proprietorial nuances that word carries.  Your slightly longer but simple mantra carries the elements of stewardship I value most. Which as it turned out was handy.

    This week I had the privilege of being somewhere with the objective of setting up a new team.  We realised we had a golden opportunity and a responsibility to influence  the culture by recruiting people who would think, behave and work in certain ways.  We came up with several, but when we had done, top of the list was a unifying value statement about leaving things better than we found them.   

    Theres also a theme in here about how rights and responsibilities come in pairs, that you can’t have one without the other. In other words, feel free to complain about the boat, but your right for it to be perfect at a reasonable price depends on your taking responsibility at least for fixing things as you go. I could go on a bit of rant here about  entitlement and egregious litigation.  In fact I did, but thought better of it 🙂

    As for sailing, all who aspire to the leadership badge could do worse than to spend a week or two on a sailing boat.  I still sail a bit, though less than I would like.  While I do it for enjoyment, its amazing how much I learn about myself and others while on a boat.  There is yet further potential here for one of my mega comments 🙂  In brief I have learned, in no order:

    To do some things I don’t want to do
    To tell people what you are going to do or have done
    To laugh, celebrate and enjoy
    To understand risks and prepare for them…
    …So you can deal with the unexpected
    To consider the needs of others (I am particularly bad at that)
    That, apparently, its not all about me
    To check that the rope is actually tied to the bucket before throwing it overboard
    That mocking people who are doing something difficult, albeit not very well, will come back to haunt you
    That it turns out that sailing some boats on your own is actually really bloody hard (ahem)
    That while brandy and large cigars are always a bad idea, they are a really bad idea if you are going to wake up on a boat, especially if some idiot lost the bucket the day before!

    and a million other things


    • I love the way your comments are so much better than my actual blog posts 🙂 Thanks Anthony! And yes, there are a ton of things to be learned from spending a bit of time on a sailing boat. The only difference I find is that leadership has to be much more directive. When I’m skipper, I can consult when I’m tied up in a harbour, but out on the water, group discussions about whether we should tack quickly to avoid an obstacle are not very helpful.

  7. No way will I do any outdoor activity stuff, no siree. I like that mantra though, it reminds me of something someone sent me this week – feed the positive not the negative things in your life.

  8. Excellent motto, I shall add it as a sub-motto to my current one ‘The Most Happy’. Yes, shamefully borrowed from Lady Anne Boleyn, it helps my positive thinking as I strive to be happy, no matter what!

    And if I’m happy perhaps always leaving people [and places] better than I find them will occur naturally!

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