“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
The world we live in is a world of process, governed by cause and effect. Our bodies are amazing creations, full of ongoing processes, and the universe is a result of an infinite number of processes. Processes obviously involve steps. Each step is important to each process. Nothing large happens without a process underlying it; there are causes, and there are effects. There are effects that create causes, and then those causes create effects. And so forth, and so forth.
The great temptation for a lot of leaders to have everything done all at once and perfectly leads to negative consequences such as procrastination, frustration, paralysis, unclear direction, and confusion. Personally, I battle this temptation much more often than I like. You see, I am driven and am very goal oriented. Once I set a goal, I want to drive at it and achieve it. I have a hard time taking breaks or shifting gears before the goal is reached. Furthermore, I don’t like things to take a long time, nor do I sometimes see why it should take a long time if done the right way. As I get older, I realize more and more that good things only come from deliberate processes. Quick fixes and short-term thinking is almost never a good thing. Sometimes, I intentionally need to stop myself and think, “Is this good for the long-term? Will it pay dividends to slow down and do it well rather than fast?” Quite honestly, sometimes the answer is that it isn’t really that important to the long-term, so maybe it just needs to get done. Then again, if it isn’t affecting the long-term, then why are you working on it?
In the Credo Way, we have a mantra, “Accuracy is better than speed. But fast is better than slow”. I believe this is a wise way to work. Always let accuracy and “doing something well” trump speed. But, do everything with a healthy sense of urgency. Things still need to get done, after all. You can’t get results by being inefficient and trying to be perfect all the time. The Panama Canal, for example, took a long time to build. But, Teddy Roosevelt was never accused of having a low sense of urgency. I need to continually remind myself to: DRIVE progress and DEMAND quality. I will never have to try to be impatient or “relax a little”. I am wired the opposite, so I turn those traits into assets by knowing how to apply the brakes. Have I mastered it? No, certainly not. But, I am very aware of it, and that’s most of the battle, in my experience.
This is a hard battle for any leader because there is always so much that needs to be done. There is never a lack of work. There is never a lack of things to improve on. Leaders must drive progress, but they must have a reverent respect for the process. Processes involve taking things one step at a time. In week 14, I discussed how great leaders plant seeds. This concept goes hand in hand with taking things one step at a time. Once you plant seeds, you have to respect the process that needs to occur for a fruitful plant to grow. If you try to rush it or cut corners, you will not have a healthy tree with healthy fruit.
Leadership doesn’t come with an easy-to-follow instruction manual. Leadership can be taught and coached, of course. But, so can physical fitness. Just like the discipline required to eat healthy and exercise regularly, things in life that set high bars are rarely easy to execute. Top level athletes that compete in the Olympics certainly understand the process and the one-step-at-a-time concept. They know that training is a process. It’s a process that involves physical training, building up, and nutrition. Some of you might have trained for a marathon before, which is no small feat! There is a process and steps to be taken to get there. A lot of people try to rush this or just give up. When faced with a daunting task or a goal that is very difficult to achieve, chop it up into steps. Chop it up into achievable goals that can be met, one goal (one step) at a time.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking complex and overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
– Mark Twain
For leaders to achieve high impact results, they have to realize that this happens one step at a time. Although they might have a very grand (and very good) vision of where to go long-term (see week 23 about taking the long view), successful leaders will help break the BIG VISION into smaller, achievable steps. With every single step, they move closer to the goal, while building confidence each step of the way (creating momentum).
Furthermore, Leaders must be able to focus on one thing at a time (see week 4). Once you have seen success, move onto another thing. Following through is important. Not only to achieve results, but to gain the confidence of others. Leaders that have a lot of things 80% done never get anywhere. Their ideas are great, but their lack of focus handicaps them.
So, how can we build a big brick wall? Here’s what you don’t do: you don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say: ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ And, you do that every single day, and soon you’ll have a wall that is the envy of all “wall builders”. If this is not something that you are capable of, for goodness sake, surround yourself with people that find this concept very natural to them. Success breeds success, and if you focus on that one brick at a time, soon you will have something that is so much better than what you started.
Here’s one more key benefit to taking things one-step at a time. Living in the moment. This has been proven, over and over, to create peace of mind. Living in the future is good, in order to dream, set goals, and establish a vision. However, living in the future too much can be dangerous. It brings your focus away from what you’re doing, and it naturally brings your mind to anxiety. Think about the future, but limit how much time you do it. And, I would suggest that you try and set intentional times to think about the future. When you are not in those times, do your best to remain focused on the task at hand. Focus is an unfair advantage against your competition.
Lastly, what you need to know, is that not every step is equal. Some steps aren’t easy. In fact, some steps you will take aren’t even in the right direction. Get used to it. This is life. Some steps are painful, uncomfortable, and downright hard. You may have read or heard that beautiful poem about footprints in the sand. Sometimes there are two sets, when you are walking with Jesus, and sometimes only one set, when Jesus carries you. If you look at my life’s “footprints in the sand,” it’s not a nice, straight set of footprints marching toward a goal. It’s a messy path, where sometimes there are footprints. But, most often there are U-turns, backtracks, criss-crossed tracks, and sometimes scuffles where I was dragging my heels, kicking and screaming the whole way.
Did Jesus do things one step at a time? Of course he did! The scriptures make this abundantly clear. He took 3 years to work through the process that God had set forth for him. He listened to God for his instructions. Sometimes he was told to be patient, other times he was told to take action. His entire life and his entire purpose was lived out in a process, one step at a time.