Wind, Electricity, and Leadership

Wind, Electricity, and Leadership by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Photo by Vincent McMorrow-Purcell, available at

The Mojave Desert is a fascinating place. Beautiful. Dangerous. Remote. It is also known as the High Desert. I like that. It sounds special. Unique. Powerful. This name is due to its relatively “high” elevation – between 3,000 and 6,000 feet (or 910 to 1,800m for my metric friends). “High” for a desert.

Scorpions – scary and poisonous – call the Mojave Desert home as do venomous snakes such as the “sidewinder.” The desert is littered with cactus such as the pencil cholla and beaver tail prickly pear. Mohave yuccas, desert sage, and California fan palms provide hiding places for chuckwalla (yes, really), gila monsters, jackrabbit, and (my least favorite by far) tarantulas. Yuck!

The 394 mile (634 km) passage between Los Angeles and Phoenix, largely on Interstate 10, took me through the southern Mojave Desert. I was thinking about growing up as a young “adventurer” – catching chuckwallas and horny toads, while avoiding tarantulas and scorpions in that great Mojave metropolis of “29 Palms!” Yes, there really is such a place! and I was born there.

I was thinking about the hot days and cool (actually cold!) nights. I was thinking about the time I almost picked up a sidewinder (desert viper) because I saw its tail and though it was a lizard (ok, I was only 4 at the time!). I was thinking about drinking date shakes (made with fresh dates from Indio) and eating oranges with the peel still on ’em (because the peel was sweet and the citrus was so fresh). I WASN’T thinking about wind turbines or the much-needed power they generated.

Yet there they were! There was no way to ignore them. If you’ve ever driven in that part of the country, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Hundreds … no, thousands, maybe millions of acres of wind turbines spinning (well, most of ’em). Generating power from the wind. Harnessing this unseen power and converting it into something useful and necessary – electricity.

As a kid growing up in 29 Palms, I don’t remember seeing wind turbines. I remember seeing 105mm howitzers (my dad was a Marine Corps artillery officer – semper fi), but never wind turbines. Wow – billions of ’em.

At the next rest stop, I got out of the car to look at these massive wind turbines covering the landscape as far as I could see (and to stretch my legs). I realized that I didn’t feel a strong wind. Steady. Consistent. But not an overpowering wind. Hmmm.

I started thinking about how a steady wind applied to leadership. Yes, that’s how my brain works. Scary, but true. … Should leadership be overpowering or consistent. Steady or variable? Silent and unseen or over-the-top?

How do other see us?… Do we show up every day? … Stay a full day? … Work hard when no one is around to check up on us? … Keep pushing ahead? … Make progress? That is measurable?

Are we there when the going gets tough? … When we want to quit? … When the job is not fun and rewarding? … Are you steady like the wind that turns those wind turbines near Palm Springs?

Are you turning the blades and generating electricity? … Are you constant and steady? During tough times? Through the night? … Do you treat people consistently? From the CEO to the janitor.

I got to reflecting on leadership examples around me. A boss who refused to relocate to the division headquarters and was absent much of the time. No wind. … An hourly employee who stopped by my office to encourage me because she said the smile was gone from my face and she was concerned. Wind. … The new VP who came in and immediately terminated 14 people (to demonstrate toughness and a cost reduction mentality to the COO) without taking time to understand the business or its people. No wind. … The manufacturing leader who came out in the middle of 3rd shift (about 2am) to personally thank the employees for their safety and quality results. Wind.

What kind of leader are you? No wind. Inconsistent. No electricity. No power. No sustainable results. Or are you wind. Consistent. Turning the blade. Generating power and electricity. Making a difference.

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