Three Leadership Lessons I Salvaged From the Junkyard

I practically grew up in a junkyard. My family had a nice home and I attended good schools, but my dad owned a junkyard and I worked there every weekend and all summer long. I learned to take apart practically anything (though I could never figure out how to put things back together—that was our customers’ job!).

Like most family businesses, it was expected that as the owner’s son I would work—and lead—at an early age. I was marking tires with a yellow paint marker by the time I was old enough to read the numbers on the sidewalls. I was ten when I began closing out the cash registers and counting the daily receipts. I was fourteen the first time I fired someone (it did not go well, but that’s another story).

Only decades later did I realize how those junkyard experiences shaped my leadership style. Three lessons in particular stand out.

Leaders go home with grease under their fingernails.

Time after time I’ve watched supposed leaders try to avoid the messy parts of their jobs. They over-delegate, avoid, or explain away the really tough challenges.

The junkyard had a clearly defined division of labor, with some guys working directly with customers and other guys working the yard. For my father, though, the junkyard was egalitarian. He negotiated with insurance adjustors, but he also pulled parts, operated the smelly diesel forklift, and spread sawdust across the pools of grease on the concrete floor. Everything in a junkyard is covered in grease. So for anyone working well in a junkyard, dirty fingernails are unavoidable. My dad got his hands—and his clothes—dirty every day.

Jesus had grease under his fingernails too—he grew up with the calloused, cracked hands of a tradesman. And he didn’t seem to mind. I always smile when I read about Jesus spitting on the eyes of a blind man in order to heal him. That detail has a “roll up your sleeves” feel to it.

Not all leadership positions require us to come home literally dirty. But all leaders should be ready, at least figuratively, to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to get a job done.

Leaders are the first to grab the fire extinguisher.

A leader is the first to arrive and the last to leave—and this is especially true when it comes to unexpected – but all too frequent -- surprises.

I lost track of how many times we got a night call about a fire at the junkyard. When you have hundreds of cars leaking oil, grease, and gas, fires were tough to avoid. Dad (often with me tagging along) would rush over to see what could be done.

The same was true for calls from the police. We had thousands of dollars in parts sitting in an open field, and plenty of people figured they could easily jump the fence and help themselves. It was my dad who got the call.

Other surprises were less dramatic but just as disruptive. A scheduled day of fishing or a family outing would be interrupted because a key employee didn’t show up for work and Dad had to cover for him.

Those unplanned events remind me of Jesus sleeping in a boat during a storm—something my dad, a world-class napper, could relate to! As waves build around them, Jesus’ disciples grow frantic. Then Jesus wakes up from his nap (probably a bit grumpy like most of us when we first wake up), and calmly stops the storm.

There was no hesitation in these moments. My dad lived by the motto of the military academy he attended: Acta Non Verba. Action not talk. Deeds not words. Whenever a problem springs up, a leader has to be ready to grab the fire extinguisher—literally and metaphorically—and be part of the solution.

Leaders buy the coffee and donuts.

The junkyard was competitive. Actual fights were rare, but raging arguments were routine. A rough and often profane one-upmanship was part of the culture.

Though my father rarely used profanity, I could see the thoughts racing through his mind. I knew when he was going to push me or someone else to the breaking point—or when someone (like me) had pushed him to it! He had to be just as tough and ornery as the most belligerent junkyard dog.

But he also added appreciation, reward, and thankfulness into our junkyard culture. He’d buy coffee and donuts for everyone, or slip a few extra dollars to a guy with a new baby. Dad rewarded a hard worker, celebrated special events, and offered grace whenever possible.

In John 21 we read that the disciples have been fishing all night. Remember what Jesus had been doing? Cooking breakfast for them! I love how Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “Breakfast is ready.” Simple, generous, human leadership.

Good leaders intentionally embrace the tension between competitiveness and generosity. When done well, this creates a unique culture of trust and achievement . . . along with delicious donuts!

The lessons I learned from the junkyard have stuck with me for decades. Whether helping my maintenance guys unload a truck full of lumber, being the first to check our buildings after the Loma Prieta earthquake, or treating my whole team to a weekend getaway, I’ve found myself influenced over and over by the echoes of those years working for my dad.

Obviously I make mistakes! Far too often I’ve delegated the messy job, avoided making the tough decision, or simply bought cheap champagne for my colleagues instead of the good stuff.  But growing up in the junkyard gave me the benchmarks to know when I’ve made those mistakes, along with ways to correct them. The junkyard laid the groundwork for the business success I have today, and a good deal of personal success as well.

It was a messy but magical place—and a leadership laboratory for which I will always be thankful.

Roy Goble  After growing up helping his dad with the family junkyard, Roy Goble took over the family’s real estate business. Since then he’s continued to wrestle with the implications of following Jesus for business leaders and wealth creators. He is the CEO Of Goble Properties, the director of PathLight International, and the author of Junkyard Wisdom.

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1. Tell me one take away from this article.
2. What role did books play in your childhood? Now?
3. Any of you find treasures in the junk pile/thrift store? Do tell!


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  1. 2. To say that I love reading is an understatement. Books have played a huge part in my life for as long as I can remember. I definitely don't have enough time to read these days, which is very disappointing. My life would not be the same without books. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of this book. Looks really interesting!

  2. Books were a big part of my childhood. I lived in a violent and abusive home, so reading was an escape for me. Even today with PTSD I still find books as an escape. There are so many books to read that fill me with joy, hope and I appreciate all the hard work authors do to give readers stories that we can learn from, escape to and find happiness in.

  3. honestly books played a huge part in my child hood and now i loved to read and learn new things same as now i have to keep a book opened and reading daily. I found an adorable book shelf that i repainted a fun new color and use it f or some of my beloved books

    Beverly Gordon

  4. 2. I've been reading since I was about three years old. Over the years it has served as a way to escape into fantastical worlds, or to travel to places I've never been. Some books have made my heart break for the tragedies that befell the characters, others made my heart sing for the love they found in the end. To this day, my day is not complete if I have not read - at least a little bit - for relaxation.
    This book looks like it would be a great addition to our church library! Thank you for the opportunity to win it.

  5. 1. This post reaffirmed what I learned a long time ago. A great boss or leader is willing to do what he asks others to do.
    3. I love to shop at Goodwill or Salvation Army. Most of my treasures are clothes for me or my family but I have found some nice dishes there also. I love old dishes!

    1. I Love old dishes too. There are so many treasures to find in thrift stores. Oh, I've come across a great books too! For me and the grand kids! Grin!

  6. Books have been my best friends since I was a child, which is why I'm writing my own now.
    Joan ramirez,

  7. As an only child, I loved reading and still do! I always wanted books for presents for my birthday and for Christmas. To me that is the best gift still! Now, I give books as presents and have been for many years. I know some parents tell me that every night they have to read the books I gave to their kids before they go to bed.

  8. Here is the Amazon Link for the Book Blurb:

  9. I love finding great books in thrit stores. Sure, the recommendation of new works are awesome but stumbling on an old gem in a pile of 99 cent books is such an amazing feeling. :D

    1. Oh, Yeah. I've found some really great books in hard back that are keepers. I'm with you! Grin!

  10. Books were major to me! I loved to be read to when young and couldn't wait until I could read for myself. Now I write and edit. BTW, Friday is the 11th, not Saturday

    1. THANKS Mary for entering and for your correction. OOPS! It must be thrilling to be a author and editor. Blessings!


    I've sent your contact information to the publisher.

    THANKS to everyone

    That enter.