The first thing I see every morning when I walk out the door is a cane hanging from the self in my garage. More specifically, I see the cane that I relied on to help me walk everyday for those 9 brutal months after I severely injured my spine. For nine months I relied on that cane to help me walk but today, I am proud to say that I haven’t used that cane for four years! So why do I keep a cane that I don’t need anymore? More specifically, why do I make sure it’s the first thing I see every day before I leave for work and what could that possibly have to do with leadership?
Well, because that cane reminds me everyday of how far I’ve come. That cane reminds me to never give up despite how overwhelming my current circumstances may be and it reminds me of my responsibility as a leader to inspire those I lead to do embrace a similar mindset. Most importantly, that can reminds me to recognize progress.
Allow me to take you back to one of the most difficult days during my recovery journey. On the second day that I tried to walk without that cane, I fell flat on my face after limping those first few painful steps. I remember the overwhelming sense of disappointment and embarrassment I felt knowing that I was nowhere near accomplishing my goal of walking normally again…
But in that moment, the voice of a close friend accompanied his helping hand lifting me back to my feet. With a quick look at my head held low, he reminded me of the progress I had made despite my disappointment. He reminded me that although I might have fallen short again, I had taken two more steps that day than I had the day before. He reminded me that the only way to guarantee that I would never reach my goal would be to give up.
He reminded me that although I had not quite accomplished what I set out to achieve, I was making progress. Slowly but surely, over the next few years, I left that cane in the dust and honestly, I owe that accomplishment to my friend’s recognition of my progress.
As leaders, it’s our job to set our sights on a brighter future and to lead those who follow us to accomplishing that objective. However, often times, in a constant pursuit of a better tomorrow we forget how far we have come and we overlook the progress made. We can’t blind ourselves to the short-term progress being made to bring us closer to accomplishing our goals.
Seeing my cane every morning reminds me to humble myself enough to acknowledge the progress I have made. More importantly, it reminds me to acknowledge progress made by those I lead. Although sometimes, my teams might not be performing at the level I have envisioned for them, I must acknowledge how far they’ve come and provide consistent recognition and affirmation of that progress. Everyone learns and progresses at different speeds but progress is progress. The process of consistent reassurance and acknowledgement builds confidence in followers and increases their ability to achieve what they’ve set out to accomplish.
By: Timothy A. Natale
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