If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster. – Stephen Covey
What does that mean?
This quote comes from the difference between management and leadership. A leader has the vision to see the ladder is leaned up against the wrong wall.
If we just manage the task at hand, we may become very busy people, and get a lot done. But without checking what wall we’re leaned against, climbing the ladder just gets us up the wrong wall faster.
Management gets us up the ladder, but leadership comes from the people who can step back and look at how we are approaching our goals.
If the ladder is on the right wall, all is good. If not, a leader will call for a stop-work and get the ladder re-positioned.
Why is the right wall important?
The right wall, in this metaphor, is our goal. We can work as hard and as efficiently and as dutifully as we might possible be able to, but it will be of no avail if we aren’t working towards our goal. No amount of managerial acumen will get you where you want to go.
The classic tale is of the person who went looking for a sunrise by always walking and facing west. I think it is safe to say that the person’s ladder was leaned against the wrong wall. No matter how fast they walked, nor how diligently they kept watch, the were never going to see a sunrise, right?
By keeping track of our goals and what we are going, we can use our leadership skills to to make sure we’re headed the right direction. As you can imagine, if we are headed in some other direction, we aren’t getting closer to our goals as quickly as we might. We could even be headed in the wrong direction.
We can help keep ourselves on the correct path if we check our ladder from time to time, making sure we’re on the right wall. We can do the same for others, be it our co-workers or our friends and family. While tact might be necessary, don’t we owe them the courtesy of pointing out where they are headed?
Where can I apply this in my life?
You probably beat me to the punch, but consider where and when you have found yourself working your way up a ladder which was leaned against the wrong wall. How often does it happen? How far up do you tend to get before you notice? How embarrassing is it when you find out? How much time, money and effort do you waste?
There are some other questions as well. Do others have to point it out to you, or are you the one who points it out to others? How tactful are you when you point it out, or do you just laugh and shake your head? Do you offer to help, or at least provide some insight from your experiences on the wrong wall?
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been up the wrong wall, the wrong tree, the wrong street or however else you want to put it. I have tried to make it a habit to look around each time I make it up another rung. You might think that once per trip is enough, but sometimes it’s hard to tell which wall you want from the ground.
Sometimes you have to get into it a ways before you can determine if this is the right wall or not. Sometimes they all look the same from the bottom. The sooner you notice, the sooner you can get your ladder over to the best wall you can see from where you were. Then you can try again, and keep looking to be sure of where you are at.
When you considered your experiences, did you notice any patterns? If you can fix a pattern, you fix more than one problem. And any time you find yourself in that pattern again, you already know how to fix it. What could you do differently to get your ladder moved to a better wall sooner? Take a moment and consider the possibilities.
What can you do to help make checking your wall something that happens by habit, rather than by chance? Can you break your goals into chunks, and check your progress each time you complete a chunk? What other ways have you come up with to help yourself? Feel free to share, as I would like to know as well.
We all spend time with our ladders leaned against the wrong wall. It’s up to us to figure out how to best notice what is happening and get the ladder over to the correct wall. We can also learn to take advice from those who can see which wall is the wrong one (or the right one), and to give that same advice (with tact).
Which ladder will you move today, or at least examine to make sure it’s not on the wrong wall?