The Incredible Power of Clear Common Purpose

Guest Author:  Mr. Jerry Nye, Minneapolis, Minnesota.


This past weekend, I had the pleasure of being part of a relief effort that brought out the very best in a community.  The Red River along the Minnesota/North Dakota border was well over flood stage and expected to crest at 43 feet.  In less than one week, over 3 million sandbags had been stretched out by volunteers creating dikes ten to twelve feet high to separate home from river.  Sump pumps were working overtime on the home side of the dikes in order to keep basements relatively dry.  This was a 24/7 operation, given that five minutes of an uncontrolled leak can be the difference between winning and losing.   The dike is all that separates the home from disaster and one did not have to look far to see what could happen.  Down the block, a dike had failed and water had flooded the basement and reached the first floor carpet.  Relief workers were saying the house would need to come down.

Thousands of people from all walks of life worked tirelessly all week preparing for the rising water.  The majority were pitching in to help people they had never met. They simply moved from one “battle station” to the next as the call went out for help.  We saw one group of about 50 people literally come out of nowhere to set up a sandbag brigade to shore up the breaches in the dikes.  This was all accomplished in about 30 minutes and, once completed, the group simply moved on.  A Salvation Army truck handing out refreshments was their only reward.

While manning four sump pumps on the patio of a home along the banks of the river, I had time to reflect on the experience.  Looking up at twelve foot dikes separating you from an equal amount of water on the other side leads one to ask the question, “Why are people doing this?”  Some were relatives, so there was some expected obligation, but many were simply friends, or friends of friends, or total strangers, willing to pitch in because their home was dry and this one was being threatened.

The shift workers included an unemployed carpenter, a mortgage banker, several farmers, a couple of nurses, a college admissions counselor, an experienced property and casualty insurance manager (with no skin in the game on this house), a new life insurance agent and several young college students.  Some chain smoked, some swore like pirates, and others talked about divine providence.  There was no social hierarchy or pecking order nor a sense for where one fit.  Everyone shared a common purpose and expected nothing in return.

At the beginning of the week, the homeowner had taken charge and was in command of the effort.  It was his home, his strategy and his guidance that set the course.  After six days of nearly non stop effort, exhaustion necessitated that he turn over the leadership and decision making to others while he got some much needed rest.  He left to take a couple hour nap… it was twelve hours later when he woke up.  During that time, we made decisions on adding sump pumps, shoring up the dike, adding plastic sheeting to reduce seepage and modifying the schedule of workers.  It was a fascinating example of teamwork and resolve that began by setting aside the socio economic differences of the group and focusing on the common purpose of protecting and saving the home.

During the time I was there, I kept thinking “During this critical period in America, regardless of political persuasion, Congress and Wall Street should be up here taking a lesson from this community about the importance of focusing on the challenges our nation faces and setting aside petty self interests in order to serve the greater common good.

For now, the river is receding and the immediate threat has diminished. People are returning home and are preparing for the massive clean up.  The addition of 15″ of snow in the past few days means the river may swell again as the spring melt occurs.  If that happens, there is an attitude that, if necessary, the community will again rise to meet the challenge and theclear common purpose.   I cannot imagine that anyone involved was not sincerely touched and permanently influenced by the spirit of service, sacrifice and community that was displayed by the volunteers who came from around the region to help.

Publishers note:  Jerry Nye describes himself as a “recovering healthcare executive now in consulting.”  Jerry is one of the most kind, thoughtful and caring people I know.  He is everything one could ask for in a friend and colleague.  Jerry is all about serving others and contributing to the common good.  And so, it was no surprise that he was one of thousands of volunteers at the Red River last week.

Want more fulfillment and success in your career and your life?  Double your focus and resolve to create, maintain and leverage the incredible power of clear common purpose. “Never, ever underestimate The Power of Clear Common Purpose!”

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I am a leader, speaker, and author who is passionate about Leadership Excellence and Achieiving Greater Success. I am the author of the books Be An Inspirational Leader(2016) and Presidential Leadership (2013), and deliver keynote presentations on those topics and several others.

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