Daily Proverbial, 22 December 2011

He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe. Proverbs 28, verse 26.

The best management advice I ever received was from a retiring colonel. It was his last day on active duty at the end of a long career that stretched back to flying F-104s in Vietnam, and he chose to spend part of it in the section where I worked in Colorado. This was the colonel who had cleared the way for my assignment in Colorado after I’d been slated to go to a unit in San Antonio. He was the man who had turned around our headquarters unit from a combative terrible place to work into a mission-focused solid unit. He was the real deal and I respected him immensely.

Col Jensen’s advice? “Learn how things work.” Speaking to our stable full of brash, cocky young racehorses, he said he had learned this simple lesson as a hotshot fighter pilot. It was a piece of advice passed on to him by another grizzled old veteran. Whenever you go into a new place, learn how things work, how things are done, who does what, what goes on and why. Don’t just jump in and start trying to re-do or re-invent the way things are done: learn how things work and then move forward.

Simply brilliant, don’t you think? It encompasses so many lessons in just a few tidy words.

Reading today’s proverb, I thought of this advice again because it’s segues off the verse. Don’t trust in yourself: learn how the world works. Learn that you’re part of a bigger system, that you’re a tree in the larger forest. Don’t get too big for your britches; don’t get the big head. Trust in what you know but don’t necessarily trust in yourself. Even more than this, trust in the people around you. Trust in what they know as being part of something much more important than any one person alone.

And do these things because wisdom is your ultimate goal. As a warrior, your goal is to defeat your opponent and return to peace, to compel him to do your will. You don’t do that just to bomb the bad guys: you do it to win, to be victorious. In your own small way as part of the bigger strategy, you tactically fight to achieve your mission. And you do it with the unspoken goal of wisely returning to peace and normalcy. Wisdom is the goal for which you strive because in wisdom you are safe.

I don’t know if Col Jensen was a particularly religious man, but he could have been. His advice wasn’t a Proverb, but in my opinion it could be proverbial. There is something godly in learning that you shouldn’t put too much trust in yourself even as you trust your abilities and your knowledge base. It may seem like a subtle difference in saying those things, but it’s an important one. If you trust in yourself first, you put yourself in the place of God. If you trust God first, then in the knowledge and abilities He gave to you, you are in the position to walk in wisdom. That’s how the world really works.

And when you walk in wisdom, you are kept safe. For most of the time, that’s a literal statement: making wise choices usually results in safety. Even when it isn’t literal, though, our hearts, our soul, what matters most is safe and sound. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me; soothing reassurance from Solomon’s father that he who walks in wisdom will be kept safe even in the face of flying arrows and speeding bullets.

Trust only in yourself and the outcome may just be different. That, too, is how the world works.

I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a management book myself, but taking the advice from Scripture instead of just personal experience. It would be hard for me, though, to not include Col Jensen’s sagely parting words. It has been fifteen years since he said them to our team and they’ve stuck fast with me and served me well. These days, though I work in a career field far removed from what I used to do, the words serve me well. When I go to a new organization, I first learn how things work. Analyze and evaluate before executing. Good words of management advice that just happen to be proven principles of project management. They’re good words that take Col Jensen’s advice to the next level. More than this, they are what God would have us do.

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