Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
As humans, we tend to want to know what awaits us at the end of a long, dark staircase. The unknown of what awaits us creates uncertainty in our worlds’ leading to impatience and impulsivity. Both can lead to a costly stumble and fall.
This week, we draw four observations between a staircase and our leadership journeys:
An easily forgotten component of a staircase are the handrails. Most of us get pretty used to traveling up and down staircases without even utilizing them. We can be so focused on completing the journey that we fail to remember they exist…until we need them. Whether it is age, injury, or just simple dependency, handrails serve a purpose. They provide support, stabilization, they keep us from falling.
In our leadership journey, handrails are the people who support and stabilize us as we traverse the craziness of leadership. They are family, friends, and teammates. These people are there when the climb gets tough and keep us from falling.
In the midst of busyness, just like handrails, we can fail to depend on these people at times. We grow hyper-focused on the task or obstacle at hand, and it consumes our minds. Here is a simple, and much needed reminder…our support mechanisms are always there. All we have to do is reach out and hold on. They will help keep us upright.
The stair tread is a critical component of the overall staircase. Each tread must be solid, dependable, and capable of bearing the weight of everything on it. It is the place where each foot lands, one by one, to carry us to the desired destination.
In leadership, the stair tread is who we are deep within, our Foundation. It is our integrity and the principles that carry the weight of the pressures of this world. If not constructed properly, we can break under those burdens.
The strength of it must be inspected regularly for dependability. Unlike the treads of a staircase, the ones of leadership can be strengthened through personal growth. Getting stronger with each book, article, podcast, video, or development opportunity.
I often wonder the direction in which Dr. King was insinuating. Up or down? I’m inclined to think it was up. He was a dreamer, and dreamers desire progress in this world, not decline. As he stated, it’s taking the first step that matters most. Once we plant our feet on the tread below us, the most important one is the next. Forward progress is the direction that matters.
When we travel up staircases in leadership, it can be as scary as going down one. The ambition that drives us up the stairs of leadership, has a false reality of what awaits. Typically, our rose-colored glasses see nothing but rainbows and unicorns. The higher you go, the higher the cost, the heavier the burden. A greater risk for a bigger fall.
Remember that direction determines your destination. Leadership requires pressing on, one step at a time. One foot in front of the other, in the direction of forward progress.
When I was a kid, the only staircase we had in the house led to an unfinished basement. Basements are dark and scary. With each step, it was easy for fear to build in anticipation of what lies ahead. Then, in just an instance, everything changed. I reached the light switch and flipped it on. Fear lifted, light overcame the darkness.
Dr. King also said that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” In leadership, we can be that light. A bright, beacon of light to others. Our world has plenty of darkness to go around and can lack adequate light. The people we lead walk through seasons of darkness we can never imagine, loss of a loved one, marital struggles, medical issues, anything that comes with the territory of being a parent, you name it. They depend on our light to shine the brightest, to drive out the darkness.
Dr. King was a great orator. His words carried profound wisdom that have and will continue to impact generations to come. Few people have walked this earth who carried the influence he did and still does.
While handrails, stair treads, the direction we head, and light in the face of darkness are important to a literal staircases and figuratively in our leadership, the most important component Dr. King references is faith. For me, I place it in my God. For you, it may be something else. Either way, faith is not best placed in ourselves, rather in something greater than oneself.
Faith requires tremendous trust. While you may not see the whole staircase, take the first step. No one ever did anything great standing still, paralyzed in the fear of the unknown. Get to stepping, have faith. Forward progress.