Leadership Lesson from Deer Hunting — Part 2

Zach Hughes
5 min readNov 10, 2023

Four years ago, I wrote “Leadership Lesson from Deer Hunting.” It’s one of my better articles. I wrote about the lessons learned from the preparation required to hunt and the stillness and patience in the woods. I also reflected on my experience passing on this sporting tradition to my two older boys.

If you haven’t read it, please check it out, then continue on here.

4 years later

A lot has changed in 4 years. My oldest son, Caleb, harvested his first buck, and it was a big one. My second son, Nathan, threw himself headlong into the sport of hunting. He took his experience rifle hunting deer and branched off into bow hunting, both big and small game. He shot his first duck this year too. When it comes to hunting and fishing, he’s well past the point of learning all he could from me. He’s 15. Now, I learn from him.

My third son, Josiah, turned 12, so he got to join me and his older brothers in the annual deer hunt in the north woods.

The student becomes the master

Last week, I wrote about my oldest son, Caleb’s, technical and artistic prowess with the Mandalorian suit. This week, I’m sharing about my second son, Nathan’s, extreme knack for all things hunting and fishing. Seriously, if sometime in the future, the fabric of society breaks down, we are moving in with Nathan. He’ll be just fine.

This is the part of parenting I didn’t really see coming. My kids were always dependent on my wife and me. I hoped someday they would grow up and be self-sufficient. It didn’t occur to me that they’d surpass my abilities in their areas of interest so soon, but it’s a complete joy to watch.

This is an applicable leadership lesson to the workplace. How many of your direct reports are smarter than you? Probably all of them in different ways. How many of them will go further in their career than you will in yours? Likely, a few of them. In some ways, we coach our employees to do what we would do and think how we would think. That’s part of the answer. The other part is to find their genius and give them the resources and encouragement they need to maximize it, far beyond our own abilities.

Hunting for real

I mentioned earlier that my third son, Josiah, took his first trip to the deer woods this year. He did all of the necessary prep work. He completed the state hunter safety course and field day, plus I gave him range time to get comfortable with aiming and shooting his rifle.

But there’s something altogether different about shooting in a real hunting scenario. There’s rarely an ideal shot to take. The target moves. The consequences of a bad decision hang in the air. Adrenaline pumps through your veins.

Experienced hunters know all of this and learn to deal with it. A first-timer, like Josiah, experienced this in real time. He took his best shot but cleanly missed the deer.

I’m proud of him. It’s not the result he or I wanted, but it’s an important step in the process. Now, he knows how this feels. Now, he can learn to manage and focus through it.

As leaders, there are so many firsts we deal with: The first time on a stage in front of a big audience. The first time in the board room. The first time we need to deal with a severe personnel issue. There’s plenty of preparation. That’s necessary, but there’s nothing like the real thing for the first time. The next time will be easier.

Hunter ethics

Nathan is an experienced hunter and he had many stories to tell in our evening discussions at the shack. He had a very nice buck in his scope, but that wasn’t enough for him to take the shot. He wanted the crosshairs over the vitals, so he could be sure it would be clean. Unfortunately, the buck didn’t give him the chance. He jumped away out of sight and Nathan lost the opportunity.

He was filled with frustration at the loss, but I know the kind of hunter he is. His code of ethics won’t allow him to take a sloppy shot. He has respect for the animals he hunts.

Later that weekend, after seeing very little activity all day, he saw a mature buck emerge just after legal shooting hours. He didn’t shoot. Two things are noteworthy about this. First, he knew the exact times for legal shooting. Second, he wasn’t going to bend those rules. He said, “I’m not a poacher.”

Leaders in the workplace have the same calling to a high ethical standard. Like Nathan’s hunting skills, our professional skills are sharp. We have a responsibility to act with excellence because our level of responsibility demands it. Additionally, we can’t claim ignorance of policies. Integrity means doing the right thing when no one is looking, and no one will ever find out. Leaders adhere to the highest standard of integrity in the workplace.

In short, the ends never justify the means. The means matter. Nathan went home from the deer woods empty-handed, but with his integrity intact. As leaders in the workplace, we must do likewise.

From the deer woods to the office

It’s such a privilege to spend time with my sons in the woods and carry on this tradition year after year. As I’ve demonstrated twice now, my time in the deer stand provides me time and space to reflect on the significant leadership issues we all face.

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Zach Hughes

Technology Leader at CHS. Passionate about leadership and innovation. Posts are my own.