When I was a teacher, I worked hard to inspire my students to take responsibility for their actions, to own their success (and failure). I remember one year in which I was especially frustrated with the lack of initiative of my students. It wasn’t just one class. There was a culture among the seventh graders that year that seemed to have permeated the halls and almost all of the students seemed to be waiting for someone to do the work for them. At one point, midway through the year, I decided to try to illustrate the difficulty that I was having as their teacher, trying to get them to complete their assignments, to listen to the directions, to take the initiative to help themselves create success. I stood on a desk and I asked them this question:
“How are you going to get up here?”
They sat in their desks, looking at up at me, giggling at the fact that I was standing on a desk, waiting for me to answer my own question. I asked a student, to stand next to the desk. I asked him the question again. “Dillon, if you needed to get up here on this desk, how would you do it?” He was enjoying the attention, but he didn’t want to answer the question. He shrugged his shoulders. “Unfortunately,” I told him, “it will never happen if you don’t know how you are going to do it.” He looked at me then.
“I don’t want to get on the desk.”
I asked him to sit down. I asked for a volunteer. Jamie raised her hand then and said, “I want to get on the desk, Ms. Long.” I smiled at her and I asked her to come stand by the desk. “How are you going to get up here, Jamie,” I asked again.
“I have to climb on the chair, but I don’t want to fall”
“I am here, I won’t let you fall.” I extended my hand down to her and she grabbed it, took a step up on the chair and then she stepped up on the desk next to me. Some of the students cheered, but Dillon had his head on his desk. I helped Jamie down from the desk and then I got down and addressed the class. “The first part of getting anything accomplished in life is to want to get it done. Without desire, you can’t accomplish anything. But you’re likely going to need help along the way. If you are waiting for someone else to do the work for you, you are going to be left behind. When it’s time to get the work done, everyone has to do their own work.
“Can you imagine soldiers who couldn’t get up on their own horse?”
As leaders, it can be difficult to accept that not everyone wants to succeed. There comes a time when the people who aren’t able to keep up with the charge will fall behind and be left in the dust. The leader’s job is to lead. It’s up to the people who want to fight for the cause, or get involved in the community, or to help the business succeed, to actually get themselves there. Sometimes, being left behind is exactly what someone needs to realize they want to begin to do the work required to become successful themselves. But, as long as the cavalry isn’t moving, everyone thinks they are part of the charge.
It doesn’t mean you don’t care when you move forward. On the contrary, it’s the only way you can get anything done.