What the humble pencil can teach us about leadership

Storytelling exists in every culture – it is a powerful learning tool that has been used for thousands of years as a way of teaching and passing on knowledge and life lessons. It is true of leadership lessons too.

A long time ago a Pencil Maker was preparing to put an important pencil in a box. Before doing so though, he took the pencil aside.

He said, “There are five things you need to know. If you can remember these five things you will become the best pencil you can be.”

First: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone else’s hand.”

Humility can sometimes be a rare commodity; being willing to be led, guided and moulded by others is just as important as your ability to lead! Being open to being helped by those who are brighter, bolder (or just different) creates endless possibilities. Surround yourself with people who care and who are genuinely interested in your “surthrival”. No, that’s not a typo, just a great word!

Second: Sharpening is painful, but it is critical if you want to become a better pencil.”

Feedback isn’t always easy, but without it, you lack perspective and a different point of view – and you seldom get better. Self-improvement, development, training, studying, being coached are all good examples of some types of feedback.

Third: Because you have an eraser, you can correct most mistakes you make, though some may be harder to erase than others.”

We only learn through our own realisations and mistakes have an uncanny way of opening you up to those realisations. Mark Zuckerberg said “the greatest risk is to take no risk” – the world’s greatest achievements have come about because somebody was prepared to take a risk, make a mistake, learn, erase and improve.

Fourth: You may or may not look all that great on the outside, but remember that it’s what’s inside that’s most important; in fact it’s your most important part”

Believe in you. You have skill, talent and ability, that is why you are on the team in the first place.

Fifth: Whatever surface you are used on, make sure you leave your mark. No matter how hard, rough or easy, you must continue to write.”

Don’t give up; even when times are tough and you find yourself wondering if it’s all worth it. Many years ago I taught people and teams a simple acronym – MTDOM: My Team Depends On Me. It is true for all of us in every context of our lives. You can have an impact on the world, be yourself and be guided by your purpose.

Leaders who think differently, act differently and react differently produce extraordinary results.


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