Rocking Or Rowing The Boat? Which Is Better?

Yesterday I had coffee with my son. I told him I had heard someone use the phrase, if you are rocking the boat, you are too busy to row. I may not have the idiom exactly right, but within the context of its use, it means that if one is questioning the direction of an organization, then one is not helping it move forward. Needless to say I have spent all night pondering this idea.

I am not a proponent of the divine right of management, nor am I a proponent of unquestioned leadership in organizations. This is not to say that I am one to always be an antagonist within an organizational system. However, if leadership is not doing its job, serving its constituency, then I think there needs to be some sort of questioning of direction.

The Declaration of Independence states, “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” At one point in time we questioned the directive leadership of Great Britain, and chose to disassociate ourselves with the tyrannical rule of King George. We questioned the status quo.

I always get a little skeptical when I hear a leader tell me that I must get in line and row the boat. Especially when it is coupled with being God’s will. There was a man in South America that said something very similar, and got several hundred people to drink a bunch of Kool-aid. There was also another guy named Moses David that did the same thing.

Being a good leader is not a coercive endeavor using psychological inducements to get in line. Being a good leader is using influence and action to demonstrate the value of a direction. It also involves encouraging the followers to stop rowing the boat when necessary and rock it to get the attention needed to right the ship’s course.

Irving Janus studied John F. Kennedy’s cabinet’s decision to invade Cuba. The Bay of Pigs was a huge fiasco. JFK’s cabinet was made up of people considered the smartest in the world at the time. Yet, due to no one questioning, or being willing to rock the boat, because they were too busy rowing, the event failed.

If I am a leader who tells my followers to not rock the boat, I am heading down a slippery slope. One of my favorite characters in scripture is King David. He was a man of great accomplishments, as well as great failures. Within his children there were many horrible events. At one point in time he was running for his life from his own son. While he was escaping, a man named Shimei was cursing David. Another person wanted to kill Shimei, but David recognized that maybe this rocking the boat was from God. David said in 2 Samuel 16:11, “let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.” In David’s mind God may have sent this message to him and he must accept it. We know that David was restored and Absalom was killed. But David demonstrates an important leadership principle. Listen to those who are criticizing, there just may be a message.

Maybe a more accurate idiom would be Row the boat, but if I start going down the wrong river, rock the boat. Then we’ll correct the course together.

And that is my thought for the day!


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