Wise Leaders See the Destination and the Details

I just did one of the most clumsy, stupid things I’ve done in years. The night it happened, I experienced a combination of pain and embarrassment. I’m not sure if my body…or my ego…was more bruised.

My family and I were attending a wedding in Huntsville, Alabama. My wife Pam was coordinating the wedding, so she had the car. It was dinnertime, and my daughter, Bethany, and I were hungry, so we decided to walk a mile and a half to the nearest restaurant. So far, so good.

As you may know, however, by 5:30 pm in November, Alabama is dark, and as it was 6:00 pm when we started walking, the sun had already gone down. Fortunately, Bethany told me not to worry—she had a flashlight on her iPhone. So for the first ten minutes, we walked by the light of her phone. Still, so far, so good.

Near the end of our walk, we reached a busy boulevard we needed to cross. While this was a wide parkway with lots of cars speeding by, I was confident both Bethany and I could run across and meet up safely on the other side. I would be fine without her phone—and her help. Fixing my eyes on the destination, I spotted a gap in the traffic and took off in a sprint.

That’s when the night got painful.

Racing across the parkway, my eyes still fixed on the end goal, I suddenly felt my legs come out from beneath me… and before I could blink, my face slammed into the cold, hard ground. I felt like I’d been tackled in a football game with no pads or helmet on. What I had failed to notice was the large, ravine-like depression in the middle of the median, between the lanes of the parkway. With adrenaline rushing through my body, I yelled back to warn Bethany, picked myself up, and limped to the other side of the road.

photo credit: Browns Pond 2011 via photopin cc

photo credit: Browns Pond 2011 via photopin cc

When Bethany reached the other side and looked at me, she didn’t know whether to laugh or gasp. My forehead, nose and cheek were bleeding, and pain was shooting through my arm, hands and face. Bethany ran to grab paper towels from a nearby car wash and was soon nursing me back to independence. Needless to say, that little accident became the source of laughter, chiding and acute pain for the next several days. I even had to wear make up for the video shoots and speaking events I did the following week. Ugh. What a bonehead.

What Was My Problem?

What happened on that boulevard was a vivid reminder of the lessons I need in my life as a leader:

  1. I was so completely focused on the end goal, I missed the ravine along the way. I firmly believe leaders must see the big picture and help people concentrate on the target they shoot for as a team. The mistake I can make, however, is to become so focused on the goal, I miss both ravines and rewards along the way. Effective leaders find a way to fix their eyes on both the destination and the details along the way. This means learning to pause and celebrate when appropriate, calibrate when needed, and coordinate their team’s effort to make progress.
  2. I was so certain I could cross that parkway without any light or help that I became blind to the challenges I would face. I needed light, and I needed to collaborate with my daughter who held the light in her hand. But my self-assured ego can get in the way—not only on dark nights, but also on dark and challenging days at work. Lasting leaders must learn to combine both confidence and humility, acknowledging when they need others to shed some light on the path to help reach the goal. Healthy leaders must be “humbitious”—both humble and ambitious.
  3. I was so ready to run toward the goal that I didn’t think through the price of my journey. I took off before Bethany did, who calmly waited for more cars to pass and for a time she could insure her phone was ready to light the road along the way. The night was just as dark for her, but she navigated it far better by preparing a bit more before taking off on the journey. Just like a wise traveler asks the taxi cab driver how much the ride will cost before getting into the cab, good leaders count the cost before embarking on the journey.

Simple lessons from a painful evening crossing a simple street. May my pain help you avoid pain and embarrassment on your path. Don’t miss what’s in front of you.

Wise Leaders See the Destination and the Details