Growing Leaders

Gerwig 2016-08-25

Is there someone who has made a major impact in your life? A grandfather? Or an aunt? Perhaps a Sunday School teacher or a baseball coach? It might have been a neighbor or your parents or an older brother. But most of us have at least one person who was kinda “bigger than life” and made a major impact on us. Call them what you will, a coach, a mentor, a teacher, an advisor, or a counselor. But, without a doubt, you were impacted by these folks in a positive, deep, and meaningful way.

I’ve been fortunate to have several key “mentors” in my life. My parents, my grandparents, a few teachers and coaches, and a co-worker who took me “under his wing.” Each of these men and women are amazing. They sacrificed for me. They invested in me. They believed in me. They encouraged me. They made time for me. They pushed me. They cried with me. And they cheered with me. We laughed together. We studied side-by-side. We talked. We argued. We exchanged emails (even with letters mailed with envelopes and stamps). We worked hard together on projects. We played. We sang and praised. We “did life together” in some manner.

Each of these mentors was unique. They had different styles, personalities and approaches. They did not look the same. They had different interests and vocations. Some had received a high level of formal education while others had little. Some were well-off financially while others lived paycheck to paycheck. Perhaps the only thing they had in common, at least mostly in common, were their values. I always connected with people who were simple, honest, fun, real, kind and adventurous. They knew who to treat others and gave sacrificially to those around them, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers alike. Hopefully who’ve got some of these people in your life. And hopefully you’re one of “these” people (a mentor) to others.

One person who sticks out in my mind is my maternal grandfather. His name was “Si” (short for Silas) McQuain. He didn’t have a formal university education. He wasn’t wealthy. He wasn’t famous. He would be lost in a New York City crowd. He was a simple man who loved others, his family, and his “neighbors” (which included everyone who wasn’t “family”). He passed away not long after his 60th wedding anniversary. His funeral was attended by a large selection of people, a true cross-section. You see he made an impact on college students, pastors, barbers, lawyers, bankers, engineers, teachers, firemen, businesswomen, fathers, and “everyone else.” He made an impact on those around him. Always.

But one thing that very much stands out to me was how he grew leaders, how he poured into others, through everyday events and activities. For example, I remember the first time I went trout-fishing with him. We got up early (4am felt like the middle of the night!) and drove a couple hours to the river. He’d gotten all the gear ready. And then he woke me up. While he drank his coffee, he made me hot-chocolate. He fried a bologna sandwich (fried “hard” if you know what I mean) that I gobbled up, for breakfast! It was awesome! He had Atomic Fireball candies in his vest to keep us alert. He had Snickers in the glove-box of the truck to snack on. He brought along a couple RC Colas and some peanut-butter sandwiches for lunch. For dessert, he’d wrapped up some pound cake in wax paper and stuffed it an extra pocket. How he had room, I didn’t know or care.

When we got to the river, he helped tied the spinner on the end of my line. And throughout the day he patiently pulled my spinner out of the trees and out of underwater snags. I know I didn’t catch any fish that day and I can’t honest recall whether he did or not. If he did, it was spite of my best, if unintentional, efforts to keep him preoccupied.

But what I do remember is that we talked. In the truck on the way to the river. And on the way back (before I fell asleep). We talked while eating our lunch. And we talked while fishing. And we talked while he untangled my line and unfastened my spinner that seemed to continually be fastened to a tree branch. I didn’t catch any brown or rainbow trout that day, but I did catch several maple, oak, and rhododendron branches. I didn’t care. And years later I realized he didn’t either. You see, you don’t take a 7-year old boy trout fishing on a small mountain river and expect to catch trout, at least on his first or second outing.

Did Si care about catching trout? Not that day. Not with me. If we had, it would have been like winning the lottery. Nice but unexpected. What I realized years later was that he was more about growing a young leader than catching trout. He was coaching, mentoring, and shaping me. I didn’t have the patience to sit for two hours in a chair listening to him teach me about “life.” But he had a captive audience while we fished and ate and traveled. He was intentional about our conversation. He shared at least a couple hours of wisdom with me that day while we were “fishing” that he couldn’t have shared otherwise.

I thought about my grandfather with fondness recently while on a Connecticut river fishing for trout. I had intentionally stopped when I saw the car of a young college student I’d recently met, a nice young man. I got my gear together and waded through the west branch of the river, walked across a small island, down the path through the woods, and came out on the east branch of the river where I knew he’d be.

It was almost dark. He was alone, fishing nymphs at the head of the run. I greeted him. We talked. We caught some fish. We talked. I snapped a pic of his evening “prize” (a healthy 21” brown pictured above). We talked. We caught a couple more fish before it got dark. By the time we arrived back to our cars, we could barely see. We loaded up our gear. We talked. Then, he got in his car and left.

Before driving home, I leaned up against my car for a couple minutes with a smile on my face. My grandfather would be pleased, perhaps even proud. I’m, in part, his legacy. He made a positive, intentional impact on me. I was doing the same. Whether with my family or “neighbors” (everyone else), I try to be authentic, real, and “normal.” In the events of normal life, I’m intentional about conversation, about mentoring, about coaching, about growing.

Do I enjoy fly-fishing? Absolutely. Do I enjoy getting out into beautifully created surroundings with bear, deer, beavers, squirrels, otters, red newts, and rabbits? Absolutely. Do I enjoy pouring into others and passing along what I’ve been blessed to learn? Even more so! “Absolutely” to the 10th power!

How about you? Who is pouring into your life? In whom are you investing? Whom do you mentor? To whom should you honor, remember, or give credit to? Are you growing leaders? Are you building a legacy?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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One thought on “Growing Leaders

  1. Nice article. Enjoy the way you make the point with a story. Enjoy the details – I can put myself there. I like your thought that what was in common was values. (The real thread for relationships.) And maybe most of all I love the way you love life and grab it.

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