Branch Out: Leadership Lessons are Everywhere


Lessons about leadership come in many forms and during many different situations. Consider the following story from a man we’ll call Bill.

On a recent Sunday evening, the wind was howling with gusts up to 60 mph. It blew so hard that an eight-inch diameter branch from the Jacaranda tree in my front yard snapped and landed on the corner of my roof. I wasn’t stupid enough to go up on the roof that night, but I decided to tackle the job after work on Monday.

No one was around when I got home; my wife would get off work in another hour and my sons were nowhere to be found. Since I knew daylight was running short, I grabbed my ladder, a battery-operated sawsall and a fully charged battery to get the job done. I climbed up to the slippery roof and carefully maneuvered to where the branches lay.

As I was cutting the first branch, the sawsall’s motor slowed down and eventually ran out of juice. I snapped it free from the main branch by hand. The severed branch was in my path to get back to the ladder, so I dropped it off the side of the roof to clear the way. As it fell, it snagged onto the main tree, causing it to swing wide and hit the side of the ladder. With Murphy’s Law in effect, the ladder toppled over and crashed to the ground.

I was stuck on my roof with nobody around to reset the ladder and a dead sawsall. I began breaking off all the branches I could manage with my hands, tossing them off the roof. During this process, one of my neighbors walked by and hollered up at me to say hi. She didn’t see the fallen ladder and I was too embarrassed to ask for help.

Once I freed all the branches I could, I stared at the thick log that remained. I had no choice but to employ the sawsall as a manual saw. It took me about 45 minutes to saw that piece into three chunks I could safely throw off the roof. Just as I finished, my wife called my cell; I told her the story and she said she’d be home in 10 minutes.

As I sat there waiting to be rescued, I watched the sunset and reflected on my mistakes. A job that should have taken 15 minutes took me over an hour and my hands were blistered and nicked up. What did I learn from this? Several things, but mainly that just because I can do a job alone doesn’t mean flying solo will be more efficient. Plus, I should never assume something (a battery) would be in the same condition I left it. Most importantly, I could have easily slipped off the roof while manhandling all those branches and nobody would have been around to help me. I surely would have earned a Darwin Award for that.

My wife finally arrived home to help me off the roof and we had a good chuckle.

It’s great that Bill saw this as a learning experience. After we stopped laughing, we had some additional takeaways:


  • Be open to input from peers and other leaders. As Bill said, just because a job can be done alone doesn’t mean it will be more efficient as a solo effort.
  • Don’t be afraid to say when you need help. Servant leaders develop a sense of humility. In addition, the practice of servant leadership involves working to break down the walls that exist between departments so helpful cross-functional relationships can be formed.


Carol Malinski

Director of Content and Curriculum