The Book of Marlin

When I was growing up in Luling, Texas (population ~4,500), my next door neighbor and best friend was Randy Moore. We did everything together — played baseball together, went swimming together, even worked in his dad’s watermelon patch together. His dad’s name was Marlin.

Marlin passed away recently, and at his funeral service, the pastor described his life as chapters in a book. The Book of Marlin.

Now, working in that watermelon patch all those years, I had the opportunity to hear many chapters and pages of that book played out in real time. Things like:
Boy, that’s a good ‘un.
Both sides got to get a horse to make a horse trade.
…and many more. Most of you will recognize the latter comment as the precursor to modern-day “win-win negotiations,” before being named such by some consultant selling a book. The first comment, however, bears reminding due to its timeless simplicity.

Boy, that’s a good ‘un.

Now for those who don’t know about farming watermelons, here’s a lesson: You tell how ripe they are — whether they are ready to eat at just the perfect time — by thumping on them and listening to the sound that comes from the melon. Marlin would walk that watermelon patch (earlier lesson continued — watermelons are raised in ‘patches,’ not fields or farms), thumping every third or fourth melon, listening for that special sound that would have him say…
Boy, that’s a good ‘un.
Then, Randy and I would pick it, load it into the bed of the pickup, and move on.

Believe it or not, there’s a lesson for senior leadership here. It was the right time of the year for picking watermelons, since we always picked them at roughly the same time. They all “looked” ready on the outside, and seemed mostly identical to each other, except for slight variations in size or appearance.

Digging deeper, however… really looking inside the watermelon, told us things we couldn’t tell through simple appearance and timing. Digging deeper, we could tell if they were truly ready.

The same holds true when evaluating and assessing management talent for your organziation. They may have been in the right place, at the right time. They may even have the obvious charactaristics that we feel will make them successful. But if we don’t dig deeper — really analyze the person from the inside, determining motivation, propensity for future growth, and ability to manage real accountabilities — then we may miss the true indicators of readiness. The thump that tells us, not just with visual and intuitive senses, but with analytical and logical reasoning, that this person is ready. Only then can we say,
Boy, that’s a good ‘un.
Don’t just rely on appearances, tenure, or career sound-bites; assess future leaders by really getting inside them to test their ability to wear the future mantle of leadership for your organization.

Seems we can still learn things from The Book of Marlin.


Kevin Berchelmann

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