A guest post from Chad Smith, former Principle Chief of the Cherokee Nation (1999-2011)

Forty years ago, as a college sophomore attending the University of Tennessee, I was walking down Neyland Stadium Drive with a fellow student. We passed a new building and he said, “There is our new swimming natatorium and we have only had a swimming team four years.  They are nationally ranked.” I said, “Wow! That is something.” And then he said, “And the coach had never coached swimming before.”

Now he had my attention.  I asked, “How did he do that?” The guy said, “The coach had a simple philosophy, if you want a football team you get some horses, if you want a swim team you get some fishes.”  It dawned on me that the coach was outstanding in recruiting student athletes with talent and excellent assistant coaches who knew how to teach techniques.  The coach knew one of his most important jobs was to recruit and develop leaders.

My favorite saying is, “Adversity creates opportunity.”  For the Cherokee Nation and most organizations and governments, the greatest adversity is lack of leadership and the greatest opportunity, of course, is to develop leadership in other words get some “horses and fishes.”

Leadership Lessons from the Cherokee Nation, 0071808833, 9780071808835, Chief Chad SmithWe must know where we are before we can find the path to where we want to go.  We must establish Point A, a beginning, to navigate to Point B, an end.  As individuals, Point A is a humbling, self-assessment to learn about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. Determining Point A includes understanding ones relationship to place, time, economics, spirituality, family, hometown, community, friends, etc.   It is humbling to see yourself and your abilities in relation to the world, history and the future. This humility results in confidence.

In Cherokee thought, confidence and humility are closely connected. ?????? (udadohiyuhi) means confident: “Have confidence in yourself and do not doubt your abilities, but temper all with humility.” A vivid example of understanding Point A humility is the watching the Google Earth map zooming out from your backyard to show the world.  The value of the map is not to show how small you are, but how you relate to the earth.

The adage that “If you don’t know where you have been – how do you know where you are going?” has wisdom.  Determining Point A is not only a snapshot of where you are at a moment in time, it is also the recognition of where you have been and what experience, knowledge, education and intelligence you carry with you. For the Cherokee Nation, it was critical to know our history to determine where we were, and where we wanted to go.

Next, where is Point B; where do you want to go?  Customarily, I asked groups of Cherokee speakers, often elders, how they would describe a certain situation, or interpret a concept.  Once, I asked them, “How would you describe a young person in their late twenties or early thirties that was successful? Success was having a meaningful job, starting a loving family, taking care of his parents, being a good neighbor, taking responsibility and being a patriot to the Cherokee Nation.” They concluded in the Cherokee language, you would describe that person as “mature.”

Understanding Point A – where we begin, results in humility, perspective and confidence from which we can start a journey, build an institution, achieve a dream and reach Point B.  For many people, Point B – where we want to go, is success and maturity.