Last week, my wife and I traveled by car to visit her sister in the North Carolina mountains. We left from Indiana, meandered across Kentucky, clipped the northeast corner of Tennessee, then climbed our way to their cabin on a 2400 foot high peak near Sunshine, N.C. The view was spectacular. The food and fellowship was even better. It was a five-day whirlwind trip, but well worth it.
Three times going and three times returning, our progress was marked by crossing a state line. If we were getting drowsy, or a little bored, the state line signs gave us a lift because they meant we were getting closer to our destination. That’s why a trip across Texas seems never-ending; no matter how long you’ve driven, it’s still a long way to the state line.
One way to shorten a trip is by using Walmarts instead of state lines to mark progress. There are almost 6000 Walmarts in the US, so Walmart spottings would be much more frequent than state line spottings. But it hasn’t always been that way. Sam Walton opened his first department store (Walton’s 5 & 10) in 1950 in Bentonville, Arkansas. It wasn’t until 1968 that he ventured across the state line to open stores (now called Walmart) in Oklahoma and Missouri—an 18 year journey. Walton must have felt like he was driving across Texas in those early years.
Are there any leadership lessons from this? Yes.
#1—Marking progress is an important part of any organization’s journey and the more markers the better. Markers are crucial to maintaining the motivation needed to keep going.
#2—Building an enduring and great organization is a long journey, not a whirlwind trip. It is tempting to speed on a trip, but it takes more gas, increases the chances for crashing, and may get you pulled over—stopped—in which case you will lose more time than you gained.
#3—Benjamin Franklin once said, “Make haste slowly.” It took Walmart 18 years to cross the state line and 31 years to cross the border into Mexico. Take Ben’s advice and follow Walmart’s example: don’t get in a hurry and don’t become discouraged or tired just because the journey is long.
See you at the state line—or Walmart—whichever comes up first.
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner