Ginny Wilson-Peters' Blog
I am always ready to learn although
I do not always like being taught.
“I clipped the hurdle.” My friend, Dr. Kim Armstrong, was telling our Women’s Leadership group about a time when she didn’t reach a goal she’d set for herself. And she began with those words; “I clipped a hurdle. But I wouldn’t have clipped the hurdle if I hadn’t been there.” Her story came at a time when many of us were glued to our televisions watching the Olympics, so we knew immediately what she was talking about.
After all, how many of us will easily forget the image of Lolo Jones, U.S. hurdler, when she was leading the race and could see victory right ahead of her? And then that fateful mistake where she clipped the ninth hurdle, and ended up finishing the race in seventh place. (I still watch and hope for a different result.)
And Kim used that analogy to drive home her point. At least Lolo made it to the Olympics. At least she made it to the finals. She worked hard to reach her dreams. So, even in the end when she wasn’t on the medal platform, at least she showed up and gave it her best. And the same was true in Kim’s story. Even though the results were not what she wanted, she knew that she gave it her best and in the end, was proud of herself for showing up.
“The man who carries a cat by the tail learns something that can be learned in no other way.”
~ Mark Twain
And consider the story of Mike Lang, CEO of Alliance Technologies in Des Moines. In 1997, at the age of 29, Mike left his job at Principal Financial Group to start a business from scratch. The business he started was Modern Solutions, an ERP consulting firm. In 1999, Mike and Modern Solutions were awarded the Midwest Small Business Champions and in 2002 Mike was a regional finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. In 2003, Modern Solutions merged with Alliance Technologies, Inc. and Mike became President, and eventually CEO of the merged organization.
At the time Mike started Modern Solutions his wife was eight months pregnant with their second child. Mike realized that if he didn’t leave when he did, that he might never have the courage to step out of his comfortable corporate position into the entrepreneurial world. When Mike told his story to our Des Moines MBA Leadership class, one of the students raised his hand and asked him, “What was your Plan B?”
Mike stopped for a moment and said he didn’t have one. “There was no Plan B. I had to succeed.” He put everything he had into being successful with the new endeavor and didn’t put any energy into the possibility that he might fail.
By the way, Mike’s overwhelming advice to the young leaders in our class was this, “Surround yourself with great people.” Mike also said, “You need to learn from your mistakes. And the key is, don’t just let it be a mistake, but look at it and learn.”
Combine these two stories and you have a powerful lesson in leadership. Go after what you want with such passion and confidence that you don’t create a Plan B. Show up for the race and give it your all. If, in the end, you find yourself clipping a hurdle along the way and not achieving your full dream, figure out how to learn from the experience and move on.
For more about the role of challenging, “crucible” life experiences, and their impact on our leadership, see the articles on pages 2 and 3.
“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.”