Something I wrote years ago for a children's hospital leadership newsletter in Phoenix. Enjoy!
(A Story of Leadership)
When I was younger, I wish I had been a little wiser and paid closer attention to the children's motivational story The Engine that Could I would have learned so much at an early age with issues regarding management and relationships in general. If I had focused a little more that little engine, I may not have had to learn some of the lessons that I have learned on far steeper hills. I'm not just talking about the obvious lessons in the story relating to determination or the importance of having a “stick-to-it" attitude. These lessons are good, but if the story of The Engine that Could is examined, one can find much deeper lessons; lessons for life and lessons for being a great leader! The Engine that Could is a story of a naturally born leader. It was what that little engine was designed to be. So, let’s take a more in-depth look at that little guy: his name was Chug…..
Chug was an integral part of a train; he was the engine – he was the one with, “THE POWER". As the engine, he was placed in the front of the train; he was put in the place of leadership. But, he was not placed in this position to show off his power, to lord over others, or to be served. Rather, Chug was in his position of leadership to serve. In the story, Chug had been an engine for a long time and he knew quite a bit about the train business. For example, he knew a few of the definitions for the word “TRAIN”. He understood that it meant:
Ø "To draw; to lead or direct the growth of.”
Ø “To form by instruction, discipline or drill.”
Ø “To make proficient."
And lastly, included in this definitions was that all of the above was to be done…
Ø "In an orderly manner".
Chug knew the he was placed up front to guide the rest of the train. He understood that he was not there to "railroad" those behind him to his predetermined destination. Being a good leader, Chug also showed those who followed behind him that he was willing to go anywhere that he expected them to go. And he always did, first in line, showing them way.
Chug was a wise little engine and in his travels he constantly kept something in front of his eyes that assisted and guided him – it was a cattle guard. A helpful little device, the cattle guard was always available for Chug to use. It assisted him in assuring the protection of all the cars within his unit. For example, while running on the track, if there were a hit to come, Chug would be the first to take it and he used the guard to assure the safety of the whole train. The cattle guard was such an integral part of him; you could say it was always in the forefront of everything he did and everywhere he went. Being a great leader. Chug also knew that if he cared for each individual car, and provided for all their routine needs and maintenance, it would be far less costly than totally replacing cars down the road. Chug had foresight!! Besides, what good is a train if your caboose is missing?
Due to the leadership style Chug had, the train worked as a team, they were one unit, operating smoothly together - they were family. Chug also frequently did a good portion of the work, not expecting others to carry the load alone. Now don’t get me wrong, there were times when Chug himself had pressures build up within him. There were times when he himself had to blow off some steam. But when Chug did blow off steam, it was always directed away from the rest of the train and never towards them.
As we can tell from the story, this small engine was an encourager. But he was much more than that. He did not encourage just for encouragement’s sake. Chug knew that the real goal for a train was to be stationed with other cars that were constantly in the midst of individual improvement, upgrades if you will. Chug’s practice was to draw these improvements out of each car, gently pulling - if necessary, hidden skills and talents out of each individual unit. This little powerhouse recognized that if he were able to get the individual units to operate at their optimum performance - everything would run more smoothly. Chug knew that some of the cars would inevitably advance to becoming an engine just like him and perhaps beyond. But he would assist in their upgrades just the same, without the fear of eventually being replaced by one of the newer units down the line.
So what is the real moral of this story? I guess it could be summed up like this: Chug knew that if he could assist others in achieving their personal best, then that massive hill that they had once struggled with and others just like it, would no longer be a concern - they could all go on to bigger things! It should be noted that though the children's story quotes the little engine as saying " I think I can, I think I can"…., what Chug was really thinking the whole time was "I know We will …I know We will".