John Maxwell on Leadership

Standing on the shoulders of giants


Who deserves the credit for your successes? If you said, “I do,” you may be mostly right. We all must make our own choices and reap the results of those choices. However, I say you’re mostly right because no one succeeds in a vacuum. I believe that all successful people owe a debt of gratitude to others. And alone, we can have only a very limited impact on the world. As I’ve written before, one is too small a number to achieve greatness.

There’s a poem by Saxon White Kessinger that I’ve quoted often over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever shared it here on my blog. I love it because it’s a great reminder of our insignificance on our own, along with our need for other people.

THE INDISPENSABLE MAN

Sometime when you're feeling important;

            Sometime when your ego's on bloom;

Sometime when you take for granted,

            You're the best qualified in the room.

Sometime when you feel that your going

            Would leave an unfillable hole;

Just follow this simple instruction,

            And see how it humbles your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,

            Put your hand in it up to the wrist;

Pull it out and the hole that's remaining,

            Is a measure of how you'll be missed.

You may splash all you please when you enter,

            You can stir up the water galore;

But stop and you'll find in a minute,

            That it looks quite the same as before.

The moral in this quaint example

            Is to do just the best that you can;

Be proud of yourself, but remember

      THERE'S NO INDISPENSABLE MAN!

 

If you want to reach far, what must you do? Stand on the shoulders of giants! Here’s how:

1.        Stand on the lessons of history.

Norman Cousins writes, “History is a vast early warning system.” Over the centuries of human history, much has been recorded of the successes and failures of others. When we choose to study history, we tap into their lessons and have the opportunity to avoid some of their mistakes.

2.        Stand on the lessons of others.

Throughout my life, starting when I was a very young man, I’ve made it a practice to spend time with people ahead of me on the journey. Observe and ask questions of people you respect, and you’ll gain incredible lessons that you can apply to your own life.

3.        Stand on the lessons of experience.

When you learn from others first, you gain skills in evaluating experience in order to grow. I’ve often said that experience is not the best teacher; evaluated experience is. Use what you learn from others’ experience to evaluate your own, and you’ll go farther, faster, than you would have otherwise.

When you recognize that your success comes at least in part from standing on the shoulders of others, it humbles you. You realize that you’re not isolated or indispensable.

We all need other people. When you’re open to learning from others, you set yourself up for the kind of success that can lead to significance.


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