Leadership lessons from a cupboard door, a ladder, and a lot of will
When you think about leadership, what qualities come to mind in terms of what makes people great, good, or average at getting things done? Some of what you come up with may be more traditional ways of thinking – strong, decisive, convincing – and others may be more modern – vulnerable, authentic, collaborative. All of these are necessary ingredients, but what’s the differentiator?
I’m often on the lookout for stories where I can make parallels to something I’m seeing in my own life, or where an event can give me a valuable lesson about a question or challenge I’m pondering. This week, a cupboard door gave me one that I want to share with you.
Last week I was trying to set up a nice space to conduct my job search, so I cleared out a lot of extra clutter and “stuff” in our little office. I really believe in the idea that uncluttered spaces create uncluttered minds, so I needed to get my office ready to support me in the task ahead. I moved a pretty big amount of stuff into the hall closet, and as a result a small door – a little hatch above the main closet – then sprung open to accommodate its new contents. The problem was that the door didn’t have any hook or latch to shut, and it didn’t look very good to have this door hanging open into the hallway (definitely made worse by the whole of the interior of the closet being a strong pale pink – we’ve never managed to paint it yet in our 6 years here, after all it being the interior of the closet!). The upshot, though, was that the office was neater and I could go get to work in there, so I decided to live with this gaping cupboard hatch in the hallway. Until I realised that days turn into weeks turn into months, and if I didn’t do something about it soon, it would be Christmas and the cupboard door would still be hanging open. So on Monday I went to the local hardware store, and despite not speaking very fluently the language of door fittings, I managed to get something to work with.
When Matt got home later in the day, I was glad that I had help on hand to get the bolt fixed on. “Do we have a drill?” I asked him. Yes, was his reply, but he didn’t think it was needed. I thought the drill would be easier, but I was willing to give it a shot using just a screwdriver. Up the ladder I went, only to find that it was really awkward and I couldn’t seem to get much purchase on the wood from my angle on the ladder. At this point I was also reminding myself that I don’t really like – or identify with being good at – DIY and handiwork. There was surely an easier way – and that easier way was my husband in the kitchen who, in my mind, was the much better candidate for this job. I went back down the ladder and into the kitchen. “Would the drill not be easier?” I tried to ask sweetly, hoping he’d volunteer to come do it. He was listening to something on the radio and drinking tea, not really in the mood for my interruption and definitely not in the zone for going out to the shed to then embark on a project that was not even a blip on his radar at that very moment. He conceded that yes, the drill might be easier. “If you don’t want to do it, I’ll do it on Wednesday,” he offered. It was Monday, and in my mind, Wednesday felt like a long time away. I went back up the ladder. It wasn’t easy, convenient, or my area of expertise, but at that moment I was the only person in the house who had the will to get this bolt hooked on to the door. About 25 minutes later and several times up and down the ladder to recover the screws I kept dropping (they were so tiny!), I was finished, and the door is now shut, its contents hidden out of view.
The conclusion I’ll make is that any time you have something you’d like to do but it feels daunting, don’t underestimate the strength of your will. When it comes to putting yourself forward for a promotion, or trying something new in your career, or feeling really drawn to try something that you think you might be good at, consider how badly you want it and what you’re willing to do to get it. I know of plenty of times when I’ve not been the most qualified or skilled person to do a task, but with will and a passion to make a change and a difference, I’ve certainly been the right person for the job at the time. It’s the same with leadership – don’t wait to get a title or role before you act like a leader; simply have the drive, courage, and conviction in your desire and passion to make a difference. Go up, down, or across the ladder – but don’t doubt the power of your will.