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Chapter 1 The Essence of Leadership. A Parable

At 7:15 am that morning, I cranked the engine of my 1980 Ford Escort. The car’s odometer topped 120,000 miles the previous Friday. Even though 80,000 of the miles were from highway driving, the wear and tear of the total started to take a toll on the car. I learned to treat the aging car with care; acknowledging that the days of its youth that allowed me to jump in, turn the key, and drive off immediately were in the past. Now I let the engine warm up by idling for 15 minutes every morning before driving off. The surest path to a horrible day is to drive off without the 15-minute warmup. Mechanical disruptions of all sorts can and has happened with every premature launch that did not begin with a warmup period. More times than I can remember, my commute journey is littered with memories of breakdowns and other mechanical slowdowns and the root cause of each breakdown has always been attributed to my failure to let the engine idle for 15 minutes.

That morning I let the car idle an additional two minutes. At 7:32 am, I opened the door and sat on the red cloth bucket seat on the driver’s side, gripped the steering wheel with my left hand and pulled the seatbelt across my chest before locking it in place. The digital thermostat that I mounted on the dashboard read 62 degrees. Unlike luxury cars, my Escort did not come with a temperature readout on its dash, so I rigged my own. I connected a thermocouple wire from the back of a unit I purchased at Walmart and ran it through the window. Crude yes, but it gave me the outside temperature inside the car. The temperature inside the car exceeded the outside as heat from the engine flowed out of the vents on both sides of the steering wheel. So far, the day seemed normal.

I opened the red arm rest compartment, like I’ve done on every other Monday and lifted a white audio cassette from the inside. One of the members from our church delivered a cassette recording of our church service the night before. As a reservist in the Army National Guard, I have duty one weekend per month and my turn came up last weekend which means I miss attending church. The other missed service came because of my work schedule. I am on-call for work on some weekends and it requires that I stay near my phone and computer in cases something comes up that require management's immediate attention. The cassette recordings kept me up to date with our pastor’s sermons. I pushed in the white cassette tape into my car’s player and the deep bass voice of Pastor Lance boomed out of the speakers. On average, the commute is long enough that I can listen to a couple of gospel songs and the entire sermon. There were a few occasions where I got to work early before the end of the sermon. When that happen, I either sit in the parking lot to hear the end or I wait for the drive home. The inspirational messages give me a sense of readiness for the workday and place me by puttin a good mood.

That July morning I glanced at my house one last time in the review mirror as I started my commute. We owned a three-bedroom ranch in a quiet Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Oak Park, just north of Detroit. The decision to purchase the 40-year-old house came on three attributes that sold us right away; proximity to the 696 freeway, quality of schools, and the lower crime rate compared to Detroit. The 696 freeway gave me easy access to I-75 South and a straight one hour shot to my job located downriver – a term used for the region South of the I-75 River Rouge bridge.

Traffic on I-75 had more cars than normal that morning. I ignored the traffic around me and focused on the pastor’s message about “stepping out on faith.” He used Peter’s brief miracle of walking on water as the subject for his text.

“When you have to make a critical life decision, follow Peter’s method,” he huffed.

“When Peter saw Jesus walking on water, he did three things: he faced his fear, he prayed for guidance, and then stepped out of the boat on faith and walked,” he followed.

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