When I was a child, a mentor told me the story of two boys on their way home after a heavy rain. They’d just received new shoes.
Before they’d left home, their mother had given them very strict instructions not to ruin their new shoes.
Both boys tried very hard to do what their mother asked, but when they arrived home, one boy’s shoes were muddy and soaking wet while the other boy’s shoes were dry. Naturally, the mother questioned her sons.
How did they manage to both walk the same route, both take her instructions seriously, and yet arrive home with such different results?
The brother with wet shoes answered, “I don’t know mom, I tried to avoid all the puddles.”
The brother with the dry shoes answered, “I looked for the dry places and I put my feet there.”
I always imagined those two boys. One of them jumping back and forth, reacting to every puddle, trying to avoid them, but splashing in the edges despite his best efforts while his brother calmly ignored the puddles and stepped only on dry patches of sidewalk.
What a powerful metaphor for leaders.
How Do You Lead?
Are you like the boy with the wet shoes? In other words, do you know what you don’t want and jump back and forth, trying to avoid trouble? Are you reactive, zig-zagging back and forth? Do you create confusion in your team?
Or are you like the boy with the dry shoes? Do you have a clear picture of what you do want and take calm, clear steps toward it?
Effective leaders maintain focus on their vision, on the needs of the team, and on meaningful results. These leaders produce clarity for their teams. Their energy and the energy of their team flow naturally to what is most important.
The difference between confusion and clarity is often to simply change your focus from what I don’t want to what I do want.
It’s the difference between I don’t want to get my feet wet versus I keep my feet dry.
Remember, you can’t lead when you’re reactive. Be clear about where you’re going and what will get you there. Then take calm steps together with your team.