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I’ve always encouraged our team members to be active participants in their communities. Well-rounded folks are happier when they come in our doors and that positive attitude spills over into everything they do, including work. I have volunteered with The Boy Scouts of America for years, and I’ve found that my experiences with the organization drive home principles that ring true on the trail and in the boardroom.

As part of a backpacking trek in the late summer, several of the SP team, their sons and other members of Troop 28 took to the trail at Fontana Dam in the Great Smokey Mountains. We hiked all day, culminating with an ascent up 5,000-foot Gregory Bald Mountain. We go out on trips like this all the time, and it is too easy to get lulled into thinking the woods are a safe harmless place. Occasionally we get vivid reminder to never drop your guard.

After hiking about 8-miles on the second day of the trek, we arrived at the top of the bald in the peak of blueberry season. We spent an hour picking blueberries, enjoying the views, and looking out for bears.

Walking back, I decided to walk along the edge of the road in the soft leaves – not in the middle of the road. Just past sight of the group, I rounded a bend and heard a bunch of screaming from behind. Thinking it was a bear, I spun around to try and figure out which way to jump when the bear rounded the bend, only to discover the cause of the stir was a four-foot long Timber Rattler poised to bite my friend and fellow scoutmaster Bill Cather.

Fortunately the snake decided he had enough of the commotion and backed away slowly. However, this did not stop everyone from giving me grief for stomping through the leaves along the side of the road and rousing the snake. It also gave me a chance to review with the boys what the best course of action was for snakebites so deep in the woods.

The moral of this story? Stay on guard, anticipate the unexpected and never pass up an opportunity to pass your knowledge on to willing ears. You might save a life or build a better leader, and chances are they’ll repeat the pattern later.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.
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