Help out there to avoid being a swamp

Published 8:00 am Thursday, March 31, 2016

My friend Justin Maust, a Michigan native and local leadership coach who I have written about before, often asks a very direct question in his presentations: “What is the difference between a swamp and a river?”

It sounds like a simple — and maybe even silly — query. However, it is one that has a profoundly important answer.

Justin, and I am paraphrasing here, goes on to explain that a river flows in one direction, guided by its shores and always moving forward. A swamp oozes in every direction, never really going anywhere and becoming stagnant.

So, what are you in your personal and professional life? I’ll be the first to stand up and answer like I’m at a group therapy meeting.

“Hi, my name is Mike. I’m a swamp, a really murky one even.”

I didn’t start this way, and I won’t stay this way forever. But I’m definitely swampy right now. And I don’t think I’m alone in the muck.

We all visit the swamp from time to time, a product of our ever-busy world and lives.

Personally, my swamp comes from community commitments that are important but maybe not the fundamental focus of my role at the newspaper. Serving on boards and committees and helping the community have a strong voice is very important, but it sometimes becomes so time consuming that it overpowers what should be my primary professional goal, which is producing the best community newspapers possible.

Juggling these things becomes a tightrope walk with that aforementioned swamp waiting below. This applies just as equally to our personal lives.

Focusing on the most important things in our lives and moving in a positive direction may sound like common sense but we all need little reminders like this from time to time. We all need help strengthening the banks that allow us to be rivers.

Justin is offering a chance to do just that at the second annual Lead Michiana event next month.

“Lead Michiana was created to expose local business and community leaders to the best thought leaders and most successful practitioners from around the country,” Justin says. “Our belief is simple. When leaders improve, everything they lead improves. When leaders grow, everyone around them can grow.”

Set for 8 a.m. to noon Friday, May 20 at the Century Center in South Bend, Justin has put together an amazing lineup for the event that has already become northern Indiana’s premier leadership conference.

Les Brown is an author and world-renowned speaker who has an amazing story to share about overcoming adversity.

Bonnie St. John — Paralympic ski medalist, Fortune 500 business consultant, Rhodes scholar, former White House official and best-selling author — has been called one of the most impactful public speakers in the country.

Darren Hardy, former publisher of Success magazine and a New York Times best-selling author, has emerged as one of the leading experts on achieving greatness in business and in life.

And, last but certainly not least, Justin shares his talents as a leadership speaker, trainer, team builder and coach to help people really hone in on what they can do to make a positive impact on our communities and our lives.

You can learn all about the event at

The first step to solving any problem is acknowledging that there is one. The next is reaching out for the support and resources needed to develop solutions.

We all have the ability to be rivers instead of swamps, but we don’t have to make the transition alone.


Michael Caldwell is the publisher of Leader Publications LLC. He can be reached at (269) 687-7700 or by email at