The following story contains a lesson of great importance to the functioning of teams—yes, even marriage. If you have a position of authority over people this story will help you to discern if those you manage are in the right place or position. Of course, it may help you, too, if you are in a position or job where you are not producing the desired results.
Tread-Milling: Going nowhere fast!
Dave was a top-ranking marketer for a big radio station. He didn’t sell ads to Joe’s Pizzeria. He sold ads to Pepsi and GM. We met at a local restaurant for breakfast. After some chatting, I got to the point: “Dave,” I began, “there are so many things in my life that make me feel as if I am on a treadmill—I huff and puff and burn all sorts of energy, and when I’m done, I’m in the same place I started.” I gave Dave some examples and then, Dave taught me a lesson.
There in the restaurant, Dave came up with a spontaneous illustration to teach me a lesson. He took a straw and laid it down. He then put four packets of sugar on the table. He placed the sugars a few inches from the straw and then told a story. At home, his wife told him they had a leaky faucet. He instructed her to get it fixed since he had a busy week at work. That evening, he came home from work and asked his wife if she had gotten the faucet fixed. She said she had called a plumber and left a message. At that point in the story, Dave put his finger on a packet and moved it a few centimeters toward the straw. The next day, he came home and again asked if she had gotten the faucet fixed, to which she replied, “I called again, and they said someone would call me back, but they never did.” Dave then moved another packet a few centimeters toward the straw.
Dave continued the story, relating the efforts his wife took to get the faucet fixed. Each time he moved a sugar packet closer to the straw, the story climaxing at the end of the week, when the faucet still hadn’t been fixed.
Dave explained, “Bruce, the straw represents the faucet being fixed. The packets are all the efforts my wife made, attempting to get the faucet fixed. The problem is that she never got over the straw. Bruce, I am successful because I do whatever I need to do to get over the straw, while others do most of their work beneath the straw. When I am talking to a potential customer, I don’t piddle around with those who say maybe. I would rather have a yes or a no than waste my time waiting for someone to be indecisive. If I were in charge of getting the faucet fixed, I would not have left a message on an answering machine. I would not have waited to get a call back, and I would not have hired someone who would fit me in later next week. I would have called around until I got the results I wanted, and I probably would have had the faucet fixed in a day, with far less time wasted.”
That meeting improved my life. I am always thinking about how to get over the straw, because in certain situations, I can process and plan things to death—on the treadmill. For instance, when I lived in Iowa, I was offered an incredible deal on an office to do my consulting and counseling ministry. The problem was, the office needed lots of work—redecorating, new carpet, and so on. On top of that, I didn’t have any office equipment or supplies for the office. Weeks went by, with me staying beneath the straw, making little-to-no progress toward moving into my office.
My inability to furnish my office caused Ruthie frustration (7.8 on the Richter Magnitude Scale). Finally, she asked me if she could take over the project, to which I agreed. Within two weeks, Ruthie gathered people to donate time, equipment, carpeting, and everything else we needed. I even had paper clips in my drawer. I was now ready to go to a new level with my ministry in my new office.
Am I Deficient?
Was something wrong with me that I didn’t get over the straw with the office? I will say that I am always working on being more proactive in places where I don’t produce, but I was certainly not at fault because I didn’t get over the straw. What happened with Ruthie and me is an example of how we all become productive by putting our gifts and strengths to work together. There are places I get over the straw where Ruthie never could, and she depends on me. The key is to learn each other’s strengths (metrons) and team up to get over the straw. This is a lesson for any team.
A Tip for Managers
Perhaps my story about the sugar and straw rings a bell with an employee/volunteer you are responsible for. Is there someone you constantly have to motivate, tell what to do—someone who just doesn’t seem to be able to get over the straw in their field, job or position, even though they have lots of passion, and a good heart? You may have them mis-located in your structure.
This blog post is an excerpt of my new book, “Kingdom Culture.” To learn more about vital leadership skills, grab your copy today on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946466158/) or from my publisher (www.certapublishing.com/KingdomCulture).