The great social commentator of the 1920s and 30s, Will Rogers was a man of great insights. Some of his thoughts on the human condition are on one level very humorous. And on another level they are incredibly deep for a guy who dropped out of school in the 10th grade.
But, he is credited with a quote that I am finding to be very descriptive of some of the things that I see around me these days. Will Rogers said:
Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
I see so many folks in leadership that are truly on the right track. They are not fundamentally heading in the wrong direction. Actually, many time they are not heading in much of a direction. They seem to feel quite confident and assured that just being on the right track is sufficient. It is not.
Let’s assume for a moment that you have stumbled upon the “right track.” How you got there may be a mystery. But your instincts tell you that you are indeed on the right track.
What’s next? Where do you go from here?
Just sitting there is not a long term solution. Will Rogers tells us that if we just sit there, someone will run over us. But, who is going to run over us? Consider the following potential candidates to run over us:
Our competition will run over us — If we allow the inertia of being stationary to rule our existence, then our competition will overtake us and may lap us again and again while we stay motionless on the track. Make no mistake about it. Moving involves risk. We may veer off the track. We may stumble and fall. We may just not be fast enough. All of those are possible. But none of them is a good enough reason to remain motionless.
Our own team will run over us — Sometimes it will be our own team that overtakes us. How sad is that? I am a firm believer in leading from the front. The sled dog analogy is something that resonates with me. I want to be the leader that is out front. So, being overtaken by my own team because I am too scared to move forward is a tragic possibility that I am unwilling to entertain in my own life.
A dark horse may run over us — Sometimes it will be a competitor about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds where we are struggling. And here is the hard truth about dark horses. There really isn’t a whole lot we can do about them. We cannot spend infinite resources worrying about the unknown. It is far better to concentrate on our known competition and our own team’s strengths and weaknesses than to worry about something that may not even exist. And the dark horse metaphor is really potentially out of place here because for there to be a dark horse to come from behind, we must be running for them to catch us. So in the end, a dark horse is really just a variant of the competition as mentioned previously.
What is the leadership lesson here?
The leadership lesson is a warning against the inertia of immobility. Leaders are not only willing to enter the track, they want to run, and they want to win.
There are no guarantees that you will win. There are no guarantees that you won’t trip and fall and get the worst case of “road rash” of your life. But you are less likely to get run over from behind if you are up and running and using all of the energy and stamina that you possess.
Don’t just sit there. Do something!