A funny thing happened on my bus ride home after work today. One of the emergency exits in the roof of the bus had a faulty hinge and the small, square exit door was flapping up and down in the wind. Every few moments the door would come down particularly hard with a loud *bang* and startle the other passengers.
I sat in my seat a few rows away and watched the other people watch the door pop up and down. Every few moments I’d catch someone giving the nuisance a furtive glance, then go back to their iPads and Kindles. It was obvious from the expressions on the faces of the other riders that the door was annoying them…but no-one was doing anything about it.
I began wondering why we were all sitting there, pretending the door wasn’t broken, pretending we weren’t annoyed that our after-work wind-down was being interrupted so rudely. When I thought of standing up and trying to close the door, I felt foolish and frightened. I realized that I didn’t want to be the guy to stand up and do something because that is such a risky position to be in. What if I can’t close the door? Everyone watching me will think I’m silly for even trying. What if I break it or make the situation worse somehow? Then people might get upset with me, maybe even the bus driver.
Then I realized this was a good metaphor for leadership. There was a problem that needed fixing, but no-one wanted to step up and assume responsibility because it was risky. Often great leaders are praised for their ‘vision’, but just seeing a problem isn’t enough to be a leader. You’ve also got to have the chutzpah to get off your butt and take some risks; if you won’t there’s a good chance no-one else will, either.
To bring my story to a close, I decided that I wanted to be ‘that guy’ after all: the guy willing to look foolish for the chance to stretch himself, and take a risk. I spent several minutes trying to secure the door, but to no avail; the hinge had snapped and there was no fixing it. On my way back to my seat one gentleman remarked, “Hey, at least you tried.”
Yes, I did.