Staff meetings can be brain-numbing affairs that, when finally over, propel you to the nearest window for a breath of fresh air. Some meetings, however, leave you captivated. I have a vivid recollection of a staff meeting in Colorado, during my days as a radio co-host. Our general manager, Jack, opened the meeting with a brief talk on Harbor Pilots.
I'll never forget it.
A Harbor Pilot, Jack explained, is a demanding job, and not for the faint of heart. This person has a seaworthy disposition, a keen understanding of hidden reefs, shallows, choppy waters and rocks in the bay. His actual job is to motor out, in a small boat, to assist the incoming ships before they reach port. That's the easy part.
Once he is within range he leaves his little boat and shimmies up a 30-some-foot rope ladder that has been flung down the side of the larger vessel.
The Harbor Pilot then takes over the wheel, steering the ship safely in. Although the captain of the ship is a skilled navigator with a steady hand, he really needs help in smaller, unknown harbors. That's why he needs the Harbor Pilot -- to steer around the hazards, the shallows, the murky areas only a local can understand. After the ship is anchored and securely moored beside the docks, the Harbor Pilot can return to his cozy office, his coffee, and perhaps even the mundane necessity of a staff meeting.
What Jack wanted us to "get" was the magnificence of this unsung hero. Daily, and sometimes in very stormy weather, this particular pilot climbs onto big ships and steers them to safety. He shows up in all conditions -- smooth sailing or fierce waves --to come alongside, to interpret current conditions, to take over the helm.
Also, and just as remarkable, this is what YOU do when you come alongside a friend who is floundering in unknown waters. You shimmy up the side of the boat, climb in, explain how it is, interpret the shallows and steer around the dangerous rocks when needed. You are a true friend when you do this -- a Harbor Pilot to a Comrade in the shallows. Please! Keep that motorboat fueled and ready for action. And know that you are doing sacred work in the lives of those who are counting on you to reach solid ground.