Leadership Lessons from the Sidewalk

In a recent post on walking unplugged, I mentioned that I would be walking the next day with my feet.

I wasn’t trying to be flippant – I was merely stating that your feet can tell you a lot about where you’re walking, and what you’re walking on, and in the process, you can learn a lot.

It brought to mind this post on my other website: Sometimes the Best Part of the Story is Under Your Feet.

With that going through my head, I began my walk – and it wasn’t long before I realized Leadership Lessons the sidewalk could teach me.

In a short, two-mile walk through my neighborhood, I felt and observed the following:

  • Raised Sidewalk – visible, growing tree roots: Leaders should always be looking for things that will help them grow and lift their capabilities.
  • Sunken Sidewalk – hidden sources of water: Leaders should be cautious of hidden things that will bring them down and stunt their capabilities.
  • New Sidewalk Section – replacing to make it functional again: As your leadership grows and matures, you can count on learning new ways to do some things better.
  • Clean Sidewalk – appearances matter: Leaders must present themselves in the best manner possible, which instills confidence.
  • Dirty, Stained Sidewalk – see above: Conversely, sloppy appearances give others pause.
  • Cracked Sidewalk – too heavy a load: Leaders aren’t super heroes, and must balance the “load” they carry.
  • Grass in Sidewalk – maybe lazy, but at least distracted: Leaders who allow interruptions won’t be able to focus.
  • Grass growing over the Sidewalk – know your boundaries: Leaders know that boundaries help focus attention and align teams.
  • Sidewalks – take you somewhere: Leaders don’t fly solo; they must take others with them.
  • Sidewalks – make your journey easier: Well-prepared leaders are in a better position to help others on the journey.
  • Sidewalks – make your journey safer: Leaders watch out for the safety and welfare of others.
  • Sidewalks – lift you above the road: Leaders must rise above their surroundings.

In their civic role, sidewalks play a vital purpose in city, town, and suburban life. As conduits for pedestrian movement and access, they enhance connectivity and promote walking.  Safe, accessible, and well-maintained sidewalks are a fundamental and necessary investment.

But for me, they provide great leadership lessons.

And of course, I couldn’t resist sharing Shel Silverstein’s most appropriate poem:

“There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.”

― Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

 

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How to Find Something You Aren’t Looking For

Over the coming century, the most vital human resource in need of conservation and protection is likely to be our own consciousness and mental space.

Tim Wu

A runner I have never been, and not likely to ever be.

A road biker (bicycle) I once was (150+ miles per week), and plan to be again one day.

Active sports participation (first as a player on various teams, and then as an active soccer coach for 14 years) is long past.

My exercise now is walking.

Not a lot – sometimes a couple of miles a day, sometimes three-four miles daily.

For the longest time, I listened to podcasts during these walks. I would have time to listen to at least two or three, and often came back from those walks with eight-ten voice memos on my phone.

Yesterday, I walked unplugged from my phone…

 

Pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the information you need.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

While I will always be a learner, both by genetics and environment (vocation), I think that hour a day might be better put to use paying attention, and seeking to grow wiser, not just smarter.

The stimulation of modern life, philosopher Georg Simmel complained in 1903, wears down the senses, leaving us dull, indifferent, and unable to focus on what really matters.

In the 1950s, writer William Whyte lamented in Life magazine that “billboards, neon signs,” and obnoxious advertising were converting the American landscape into one long roadside distraction.

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention,” economist Herb Simon warned in 1971.

The sense that external forces seek to seize our attention isn’t new – but it feels particularly acute today. Billboards, shop windows, addictive video games, endless news cycles, and commercial appeals tantalize us from all directions. We contend with the myriad distractions flowing through the pocket-sized screens we carry with us everywhere. By various estimates, a typical smartphone owner checks a device 150 times per day – every six minutes – and touches, swipes, or taps it more than 2,500 times.

The Art of Noticing, Rob Walker

And so I walk, unplugged.

Yesterday, I watched for American flags. In my neighborhood, I’m never out of sight of one. Some are bright and relatively new, since we are in the Memorial Day – Flag Day – Independence Day period. Others, not so much (mine included). Looking a little faded, I’ve got a new one on the way. The American flag has always been more than a piece of cloth to me. A symbol for sure, but one rich with history, sacrifice, and uncommon wisdom.

I’ve also listened to the summer sounds of a mid-morning North Carolina symphony of insects and birds. The insects I’m guessing are mostly cicadas and katydids – first one, then the another, then a whole chorus. And then quiet. And then it starts over.

With one section of my walk bordering a park and the streets and yards filled with trees, I can always hear birds – robins, blue jays, mockingbirds, crows, and more – including a nighttime hair-raising screech owl.

I listened for sounds I didn’t hear – cars up and down the street. Most people have gone to work if they’re going, and lunchtime hasn’t yet arrived. No planes on approach to CLT – that means the winds have shifted direction, and the landing pattern, often overhead, is further to the west. About a mile away, I-77 traffic is no doubt busy – but I didn’t hear it, again thanks to the wind direction.

Tomorrow I’m walking with my feet. Well, of course I will. But I’m going to “listen” to what my feet are saying about the path I choose, and see what I can learn.

When you actively notice new things, that puts you in the present…As you’re noticing new things, it’s engaging, and it turns out…it’s literally, not just figuratively, enlivening.

Ellen J. Langer

 

inspired by The Art of Noticing, by Rob Walker