Pilgrim Provisions

Today, many Americans are hooked on reality shows. I hear people talk about Survivor, The Biggest Loser, and the Apprentice as if the participants are members of their families. So I have a great reality show for you to think about, especially if you are leader.

Here are your first two challenges.

First Challenge. Your name is John Carver. You have been selected to lead 102 people on a journey to a far-off land you have never seen. The journey will take more than a month. Your people will be confined on a ship into a space about 90 feet by 25 feet. There will be women and children among your people. You will have dogs, sheep, and goats along for the ride. You will have barely enough food and water to last for the month-long journey and it will need to be rationed. Your people have never sailed before or been confined this way.

To complicate the challenge a few harsh variables have been interjected along the way. After a month, the weather turns bad. The ship almost breaks apart. Days continue and your one-month journey becomes a two-month journey. Supplies run out. Finally, you discover land and you are hundreds of miles off course. Winter is setting in.

As their leader, what would you do at the beginning, during, and at the end of this challenge? What would your leadership look like?

Second Challenge. You are William Bradford in this challenge. The 102 people you started with are down to 53. Your wife was one of the people who died. The 53 survivors spent the winter living on the vessel. It is now the spring and the ship’s captain is heading back to your homeland, he leaves you all behind. You need to build shelters and find food. Among your challenges is how to get along with native people who aren’t very happy with you for raiding their winter stores of food. John Carver had made sure your group paid the native people for the stores you took, which made a good second impression. John dies and you have been selected the new leader.

As their new leader, what would you do? What would your leadership look like?

The Mayflower. By now you’ve figured out these two challenges are those faced by the leaders of the Mayflower in 1620 – 1621. Every year at this time I think about these people and what it must have been like to be on this journey. I also wonder what I would be like as a leader of these people in these very difficult situations.


Among the leadership lessons I think about are:

  1. Vision – Obviously for 102 people to make this trip, John Carver developed a very “compelling vision.”
  2. Servant Leadership – When you read the book Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick you see that both Carver and Bradford displayed servant leadership. Their primary mission seemed to be to “nourish others” so they could survive.
  3. Collaboration rather Competing Conflict Styles – Both Carver and Bradford choose to work with the native people rather than fight them. They collaborated with Wampanoag tribal Chief Massasoit, who helped the Pilgrims that first winter and showed the Pilgrims how to plant and harvest native foods.

First “Thanksgiving” really a Harvest Celebration. In late September or early October 1621, the Pilgrims harvested their first crops – corn, squash, beans, barley, and peas. They also shot many migrating ducks and geese. Bradford organized a harvest celebration and invited their Wampanoag native friends. Their “guests” numbered more than 100, so they outnumbered the Pilgrims by a 2 to 1 margin. Of the original 102 people, only 53 people lived to see the celebration – 4 married women, 5 adolescent girls, 9 adolescent boys, 13 young children, and 22 men.

Now, that was a “real” reality show – can you even imagine having that leadership experience? But today the only reality show that matters seems to be who can stake out the Black Friday sale at Wal-Mart for the longest time. I’m not sure how I would lead that experience either.