Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Childhood wisdom: "Don't step on the cracks!"

Yesterday, as I strolled to my car (which, coincidentally, had been towed), I was busy tweeting and somehow misjudged my gait, causing me to take an epic fall. Highlights include: my cellphone skidding across the pavement, my glasses flying off my face and soaring through the air like a frisbee, scraping my elbows, and widespread shock and awe from my awkward onlookers.

After I collected the remains of my belongings and self-esteem, I got to thinking... What caused this hysterical blooper? And then it hit me ... I stepped on a crack. This immediately time-warped me back to my childhood days when there was molten hot lava under every sidewalk in North America and I, a fearless trailblazer, was determined to avoid having my feet burned off in a tragic accident... much like what happened to me yesterday. Oh, what I would have given to have been paying attention to where I was stepping instead of trying to think of a hilarious hashtag for my most recent tweet.

I began to reflect on this childhood game that we all used to play and it really started speaking to me ... in a leadership kind of way. Let's break it down for a second: On any journey towards an ultimate destination, you would walk cautiously, keeping your eyes on the ground with extreme focus. Sometimes you would have to slow down, shuffle your feet and take a few smaller-than-normal awkward steps to avoid a crack. Other times you would have to speed up and jump to barely squeak by a crack a few feet ahead ... and stick the landing with a quick wave to the audience (irritated Mom). Sometimes you would have to judge 3 or 4 cracks ahead to ensure that you had the appropriate amount of hop-skip-jumps planned out to clear all of them in one fell swoop. Ultimately, you would reach your destination with burn-free feet and a reluctant high-five from Mom.

Alright, analogy time. As leaders, we are often so focused on our final destination that we sometimes step on a crack and launch our glasses into the middle of the street, all to find that our final destination has been towed and now our elbows are bleeding. So, instead, let's channel our inner 6 year old and play a little game of "don't step on the cracks".

As a leader, there are times when you have to slow down, change your pace and re-evaluate the steps that you are taking ... shuffle your feet a little bit in order to better prepare for an upcoming obstacle or challenge - one that you may not have seen if you were solely focused on the ultimate goal. There are also times when you need to take a risk, a leap of faith in order to clear an obstacle and land safely on the other side. And there are also times when you need to have foresight and look ahead to challenges three or four cracks in the future and create a current action plan to overcome them.

As you can see, there is no easy way for us leaders to get to our final destination ... there will always be cracks along the way. The trick is to pay attention to these cracks and adapt to them. You will never be able to get from A to B with the exact same pace and strategy; Leadership requires much more than that. Be flexible, adapt, welcome change. You will reach your destination much more effectively ... and if you do miss a crack because you're busy tweeting - get up, brush yourself off, LAUGH, and keep moving towards your goal.

With this, I will leave you with a quote from one of my favourite poems, "Dream Big":
"There is only one you and you will pass this way but once. Do it right."


  1. Art imitates life! Amazing work turning a hiccup in your day into an amazing post!

  2. I really enjoyed this post! Super relevant for anyone in a leadership position or someone who just wants to be an example to others. Thanks!

  3. Great post. Leadership is about both vision and process. It's not worth much if you can't navigate the path to get there. That said, there are few people with both, and sometimes good leaders know they need good navigators to help them.

    Here's a story from Paolo Coehlo that your post reminded me of:

    A merchant sent his son to learn the Secret of Happiness from the wisest of men. The young man wandered through the desert for forty days until he reached a beautiful castle at the top of a mountain. There lived the sage that the young man was looking for.

    However, instead of finding a holy man, our hero entered a room and saw a great deal of activity; merchants coming and going, people chatting in the corners, a small orchestra playing sweet melodies, and there was a table laden with the most delectable dishes of that part of the world.

    The wise man talked to everybody, and the young man had to wait for two hours until it was time for his audience.

    With considerable patience, the Sage listened attentively to the reason for the boy’s visit, but told him that at that moment he did not have the time to explain to him the Secret of Happiness.

    He suggested that the young man take a stroll around his palace and come back in two hours’ time.

    “However, I want to ask you a favor,” he added, handling the boy a teaspoon, in which he poured two drops of oil. “While you walk, carry this spoon and don’t let the oil spill.”

    The young man began to climb up and down the palace staircases, always keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. At the end of two hours he returned to the presence of the wise man.

    “So,” asked the sage, “did you see the Persian tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that the Master of Gardeners took ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

    Embarrassed, the young man confessed that he had seen nothing. His only concern was not to spill the drops of oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

    “So, go back and see the wonders of my world,” said the wise man. “You can’t trust a man if you don’t know his house.”

    Now more at ease, the young man took the spoon and strolled again through the palace, this time paying attention to all the works of art that hung from the ceiling and walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around the palace, the delicacy of the flowers, the taste with which each work of art was placed in its niche. Returning to the sage, he reported in detail all that he had seen.

    “But where are the two drops of oil that I entrusted to you?” asked the sage.

    Looking down at the spoon, the young man realized that he had spilled the oil.

    “Well, that is the only advice I have to give you,” said the sage of sages. “The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon.”

  4. Thanks for those wonderful comments! Keep leading and learning!