Thursday, January 17, 2013

Prime The Pump

There's an old story about a traveler who hiked for many miles across the Desert Mountains. His water supply was gone, and he knew that if he didn't find water soon, he would surely die. In the distance, he noticed an abandoned cabin and hoped to find some water there. Once he made it to the cabin, he discovered an old well. Then he noticed a tin can tied to the pump, with a note inside.

The note said:
Dear stranger: This water pump is in working condition, but the pump needs to be primed in order for the water to come out. Under the white rock, I buried a jar of water, out of the sun. There’s enough water in the jar to prime the pump, but not if you drink any first. When you are finished, please fill the jar and put it back as you found it for the next stranger who comes this way.

This parable is really about giving back, or paying it forward, if you like. What kind of a leader are you?

Are you the kind of leader who thinks only in the short term, or does your vision extend beyond perhaps even your lifetime? What can we learn from this parable?
  1. There are risks to take in leadership. It's not easy investing precious resources in something that can potentially give you a return. It's very tempting to look at that water and think about all of the "what ifs." What if I use this water to prime the pump and the pump still doesn't work - then I'm stuck with no water? What if this is just some cruel joke?
  2. Real leadership takes faith. It takes a lot of faith to pour out water that could save your life. Sometimes leadership requires stepping out and doing something that risks our very survival, simply because it's the right thing to do.
  3. Real leadership cares about those who follow after. The easiest thing to do here would be to drink deeply from the bottle, slake your thirst and then go happily on your way. But there will be another weary traveler crossing those mountains someday. Without your conscientious effort, they will more than likely perish. Someone cared enough to make provision for you; will you return the favor?
It's believed that Isaac Newton was the first to popularize the phrase: "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." It speaks well to the subject of leadership. Each of us in leadership have learned what we know from leaders who have gone before, whether in person, by recording or in written form. And each of us then decide what kind of leader we will become.

Many years ago I attended a conference in which John Maxwell spoke of his desire to add value to everyone he met. That thought has stuck with me through the years. Will you leave people better off than when they first met you, or will you simply take advantage of what they have to offer and move on to the next client (victim)? What difference could you make if you made a commitment to add value to every person with whom you come in contact? It seems to me a better option than leaving a legacy of very thirsty people. Don't neglect to prime the pump!

Related Articles:
The Pareto Principle
Why Don't You Like Me?
Creating Positive Change
The Power of Words


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