Jun 21, 2023

Tomorrow Isn’t Promised: Colonel Gadson’s Advice on Building a Team

Tomorrow Isn’t Promised: Colonel Gadson’s Advice on Building a Team

No tech is an island.

No shop owner is an island, either.

By now, you probably know that John Donne line pretty well. It’s from the poem “No Man Is An Island,” which is so riddled with memorable lines that it’s been raided by both Bon Jovi and Metallica. Usually, we put some kind of diesel spin on it, because hey, we’re a diesel blog. But yeah, we’ve played with it more often than our editor would like to admit.

(Editor’s Note: Twelve times, Suz. TWELVE TIMES.)

The line keeps popping up not because it’s the only John Donne poem our writer knows, but because it’s entirely relevant to the diesel industry.

How so, you ask? Well, the next line in the poem goes like this: “Every man is a piece of the continent; a part of the main.”

In any field, in any situation, you are only as good as the team around you. You depend on the team around you.

That was part of the message delivered by Colonel Gregory Gadson on the first day of Diesel Connect, and it resonated deeply with attendees. To be fair, his entire keynote speech resonated. But teamwork and connection are such fundamental, under-celebrated parts of the diesel industry that we decided to highlight that portion of his talk here.

Teamwork is everything.

People are everything.


Shop owners are by default leaders. And one of the biggest, most important duties a shop owner will ever face is building a team.

Colonel Gadson lingered on the concept of teamwork—and why it’s so critical to organizations and to us as human beings.

“We’re all part of [a team],” he said. A team can be your family, your work organization, your spiritual community—it can take many forms, but the bottom line is that being on a team is about “being part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Colonel Gadson knows first-hand the importance of a strong team; it was his team that saved him when he was severely injured during an IED attack in Iraq. Not surprisingly, he spent a lot of time around that topic.

“To me, a team is about depending on one another,” he told the crowd. “Not just me and what I’m responsible for, but I have to depend on others to back me up.”

He emphasized learning the jobs and duties of others on your team—not just so you can step in in a pinch, but to better understand the hard work your teammates put in. He also brought up the importance of recognition. Yeah, a pay raise is great, but “being recognized in front of my peers … these things matter.”


Much of leadership centers on communication; this is something we’re all still working on, as the discussions coming out of day one showed. Leaders know they need to communicate—they know nothing will get done without proper communication. The question is often “How?”

The Colonel had some ideas. Above all, repair shop owners can do right by their employees by learning their strengths and weaknesses. You do that by talking to your employees and actually getting to know them.

What are their goals, fears, and challenges?

Where do they want to go in life?

How can you help them get there?

As a leader, the Colonel told us, your job is to help everyone under you be the absolute best that they can be. “That’s the burden of leadership,” he said. “You’re constantly giving of yourself, and demanding.”

A good working relationship, he concluded, is not just about money and recognition, though. A strong working relationship should go beyond the boss/subordinate roles. “When it becomes, ‘You’re a human and I care about you,’ then I want to come to work, because I don’t want to let you down.’

Leading a team, he concluded, “is about great relationships.”

What else goes into great relationships?

Being present.


Before you get nervous about any woo-woo connotations being present might present, know that there’s nothing even mildly woo about it. When you’re present, you’re paying attention. You’re fully immersed in your current situation, not distracted by other things.

C’mon, Fullbay, you might be saying. I’m here reading this. I go to work. I’m present. If I wasn’t present, I wouldn’t get paid!

Okay, you’re there, but are you present?

This is not a trick question.

An awful lot of us live in the future. Not in the cool DeLorean way, but in the sense that we’re always trying to think ahead. We’ve programmed (or been programmed) ourselves to assume we can take care of something—whatever it may be—later. Deal with it tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Next decade. Next, next, next. We’ll take care of it tomorrow.

Except at some point we run out of tomorrows.

Oh no, Fullbay, you might be saying, don’t you dare get existential on us.

We’re not. But it is true—and something Colonel Gadson acknowledged as he began winding down his talk. “Every single one of us, one day, will not have a tomorrow,” he said. And it may seem strange to end a conversation about leadership and teamwork with a bleak-sounding statement like that. But the Colonel’s closing remarks drove home the notion that we are the only ones that can make significant changes in our own lives—but we’ve got to make the choice to do so.

During his recovery, the Colonel said, he had to be present. It was all he could do: he could not imagine the next day, and he could not dwell in the past. He had only the present. This informed his mindset going forward, and it was that mindset he shared with us. Rather than skipping away from a situation, face it head on. Deal with it now. Be there with your people.

When you look at it that way, the statement stops being bleak. Yes, one day tomorrow will not come. But isn’t that a grand reason to do your absolute best with the day you have? When you give each day what you can, and are fully present in the here and the now, the prospect of tomorrows (or lack thereof) becomes far less upsetting.

“That’s the opportunity we have to give to each other and ourselves,” he said. “We owe that to ourselves. Because one day we won’t have a tomorrow.”


In the end, that’s really what Diesel Connect was about: building great relationships and helping shop owners build better teams—including amongst themselves.

Let’s return to that old John Donne line for a moment. Many shop owners see themselves as islands because in their eyes, they are very much alone.

It can be a tough business to make friends in. The people who know what you’re going through—fellow shop owners—are by default your competition. As tempted as you are to grab a beer with them and commiserate about the parts shortage, you’re keenly aware that a beer one day can turn into a swiped customer the next. Even if that rarely happens, it’s still an omnipresent threat in the minds of a lot of owners.

But that’s not necessarily the way owners want to operate. Diesel Connect was proof enough of that: they came, they saw, they made friends.

“We all think we’re by ourselves,” said Keith McMaster of Fireweed Heavy Truck & Equipment Repair during the closing Shop Owners Roundtable on day two. “It’s funny how much we’d be willing to help each other, but we don’t. Everybody needs the help, but we’re too scared to reach out to the people next to us and say, Hey, how do you do this?”

We hope that sentiment is something repair shop owners take with them long after Diesel Connect.

Start on it now, because no man is an island—and none of us are promised tomorrow.

Suz Baldwin