I woke before sunrise to write about leadership.
Anticipating a good 90 minutes before boy, man and dog appeared at the kitchen table, I switched on the coffee maker, snapped a quick picture of the full moon setting in the west, and flipped open my MacBook.
In less than two minutes, a sleepy almost-three-year-old called from the hallway, “Mom? I’m awake.”
Good morning, Life! How does anyone find time for Leadership?
I’m reminded of “The Carrot Story” told by Ronnie Brooks to an auditorium full of burned-out arts administrators. It was 2002 in Chicago. I was a crispy piece of nonprofit-manager-toast, ready for a change in the way I managed my life. Ronnie’s story struck a chord with me.
“The Carrot Story” (A leadership parable)
One spring, a woman received a packet of carrot seeds from her neighbor. She planted the seeds in her back yard, studying the directions as she went.
A couple of weeks later, she tramped back out to the garden to thin her carrots as directed. She knelt to work, but looking closely at the little seedlings, she just couldn’t do it.
The tiny carrots were too beautiful, too healthy-looking, too alive!
So, the woman let all the seedlings grow into fine, tall, luscious, dark green plants. She watered, and tilled, and waited with great anticipation to taste her first homegrown carrot. Then, on a hot summer day, she went out to the garden to harvest her crop.
She found only gnarled roots, tangled up in one another, thick, woody and inedible.
You need to choose, if you want to lead.
In 2002, I heard “The Carrot Story” as a wake-up call. I needed to weed the garden of my life, say “no” more often, change the way I spent my time, let go of the “shoulds,” abandon some of what defined me in the first four decades of my life, so that I could walk fully and joyfully into middle-age, and on to elder-hood.
I had to stop trying to do everything, so that I could hope to accomplish something.
There will always be choices to make.
What I’m realizing today, as midnight nears and I’m finally getting around to posting this entry, is that you can’t thin your metaphorical carrots once and expect that you’re done.
Every day is a thousand choice-points: Purpose choices, priority choices, big choices, small choices, morning choices, evening choices, difficult choices, necessary choices.
As you make choices more consciously and intentionally, your leadership capacity grows.