Owning a Chainsaw doesn’t make you a Logger

[May 8, 2019] A college friend of mine is a retired logger. Originally from the backwoods of Montana, he is a bear of a man; hot-tempered and blunt with a quick comeback. Before I really knew him, he invited me out once for some local tree cutting to stock his oversized woodstove. On our way to a stand of trees, he said, ya’ know … just owning a chainsaw doesn’t make you a logger.

Missing three fingers on his left hand and half a foot from wood cutting accidents, Sean O’Brien knew his trees, his tools, and his people. Turns out that “Half-Foot Sean” (as his friends called him), once owned a small logging company in Northwest Montana that made him and his family comfortable enough to buy a nice home near his daughter and grandkids.

What he taught me about logging was a little surprising to a logging neophyte like me but what he showed me in leadership made up for his gruff manner and sarcastic sense of humor. His simple philosophy in life and leadership was that everyone has a story to tell and that he is willing to listen. His message was that you cannot lead by just having a leadership position and a fancy title.

He said that his first step to maturity was when he came to the realization that the world exists in stories and that each person has one to tell, if only we listen. Leadership means that we are in the people business and their stories matter a great deal.

Here is what he told me. I asked him to repeat himself to make sure I got it right:

  1. Everyone must be somewhere, but some people don’t know where they are.
  2. Everyone must be going somewhere also; thus the impetus to action.
  3. Everyone must hope that where they are going is valuable and worthwhile. This implies where they are today is not good enough and where they are going is better.
  4. Our values help narrow the path and simplify our choices along the way.
  5. … and it’s the leader’s job is to know the other person’s values if we are to remove obstacles and use our leadership tools for good.

Figuring out Sean’s philosophy was a major step for me to understand that the stories we tell are really about us. Stories have something about them that is attractive.1 How we act, what we think, and the choices we make (job, spouse, life, etc.) is the story.

For me, this was no easy philosophy of leadership to understand. Our stories are not all adventures, easy, or fun. But it is the battle that takes place over our lifetimes that defines us and makes us worthy individuals. If you are ever out in Montana, just ask for half-foot Sean. Maybe, he’ll tell you a story that just owning a chainsaw does not make you a logger.


  1. Psychologists suggest this is an innate desire we all possess.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Owning a Chainsaw doesn’t make you a Logger

  1. Steven Voller

    “3. Everyone must hope that where they are going is valuable and worthwhile.”

    Worthwhile also implies that the benefit of getting to that point is greater than the cost (effort) required to get there. Sometimes called Vision in business and Mission in the military, it is ultimately what motivates us to achieve great things. Communicating this is essential to leadership.

  2. Tony B. Custer

    Funny title. You surprised me with it.

    1. Bryan Lee

      🙂 Yeah, I was also surprised. My dad was a logger from upper Oregon state. We lived out in the wild expanse of the state and learned about trees, people, and little government. I’m now reaping the benefits; own guns and dogs. Hahahaha.

  3. Greg Heyman

    Life is full of people who don’t know what they are doing. That, in itself, is not a big problem. But (a big butt!) if they are in an important position and fulfilling a critical role and yet don’t have the skills, then things can go very badly for the rest of us. Good article today. Thanks.

  4. Eric Coda

    I really like what your college friend had to say about his philosophy. I’ve seen it somewhere else (something similar, anyway) but cannot remember where. Good stuff. Worthy of thinking about some more.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      I was thinking the same thing. Sounds like a philosopher from Ancient Greece.

  5. Albert Ayer

    The US military is full of positions that are labeled ‘leader positions.’ I’ve seen many times folks get into them and not be able to lead. Some learn the hard way, some don’t learn at all, but all made my life worse off if they couldn’t cut it. I agree that just because you have the chainsaw (leadership title), you are not automatically a logger (a leader).

  6. Willie Shrumburger

    A leader does not possess leadership skills just because that person holds a leadership position or title. I once had a boss (much younger than me but that’s not the point) who was clueless about how to work with people. She just couldn’t connect with us and didn’t understand people. She was the daughter of the business owner. I finally had to quit but I found out later that she “moved on” to another job.

    1. Gil Johnson

      Just like this blog as mentioned several times; better to learn what NOT to do from bad leaders than to make the same mistakes.

    2. The Kid 1945

      I see this in academics often more than in business.

  7. Bryan Lee

    Nice! A great story to tell. How did you meet so many characters in your lifetime, Gen Satterfield?

  8. Army Captain

    I was wondering where you were going with the title. Thanks for a great article on a retired logger’s philosophy on life and leadership.

    1. lydia truman

      Reading Gen. Satterfield’s blog each morning (for me it’s always in the morning) is like opening a present for my birthday; you never know what it will be but it always makes me happy.

      1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

        I liked your analogy. I think that I’ll use it in future comments. Thank you, Lydia!

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