“Sometimes we make the process more complicated than we need to. We will never make a journey of a thousand miles by fretting about how long it will take or how hard it will be. We make the journey by taking each day step-by-step and then repeating it again and again until we reach our destination.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin
“But you can build a future out of anything. A scrap, a flicker. The desire to go forward, slowly, one foot at a time. You can build an airy city out of ruins.” – Lauren Oliver, Pandemonium
As I write this leadership message I am sitting in my backyard beside the crackling fire pit, watching the flames and smoke snake into the sky. There’s a wonderful feeling of comfort and warmth stoked by the sweet smell of pine, oak and cedar. It’s easy to see why one of the things I love most about winter is the opportunity to build a fire.
I build my fires the old fashion way–not with a natural gas flame, or a bottle of lighter fluid, but with leaves, pine straw, twigs, and small branches that fall from our trees. Maybe it goes back to my younger days camping with my father, but there is just something rewarding about doing it the right way. The interesting thing about building a fire is that it’s not as simple as you might think. Ever try stacking a pile of logs on top of each other and sticking a match under them? Doesn’t work well, right? You’ll burn through several boxes of matches or lighters before you make any progress.
The process of building a fire of substance requires planning, preparation, and patience. I start with a small mound of leaves, pine straw or dry mulch—materials that burn fast and hot. Then, it’s a process of adding twigs followed by progressively larger branches. Step by step, you have to tend it until finally the fire dances as if liberated from its cold prison.
Sometimes business and leadership is exactly like building a fire. Just as you can’t pile all the logs on a fire at once expect it to burn well, you can’t immediately jump to your end business goal. Trust me, I’ve tried and failed, and been ‘burnt’ many a times in the process.
Instead, it’s a progression. Small, interim steps are often required, and you must feed them, work through them. Those steps then become progressively larger and more impactful until finally you achieve the tipping point. Only then can things “heat up”, and true lasting success be achieved.
Often we as team members look to our leaders to make the immediate changes we all desire. We cannot see why leadership focuses on the little things when the proverbial ‘elephant’ sits in the room. We ask, “Why don’t they just do this?” or “Why is it taking so long to change?” The answer is that the steps in the progress are not only important but necessary if lasting, positive progress is to occur.
So what does any of this have to do with being a leader? Well – everything! Most leaders want their teams to achieve more — to be the best! We all want that goal – strong and effective team members; efficient processes; the right culture; the right priorities. And we want it all now.
Yet sometimes that takes time to build. But when done correctly and constantly tended, you CAN build that raging fire!