I pulled the map down for inspection from its perch at the top of the shelving unit. About an hour into our garage cleaning efforts, my wife, Jamie, and I had made steady progress in tidying, sorting, and cleansing the space of unwanted items. Choosing what to discard was a pretty straightforward endeavor. However, the map was different.
Years ago, we had attached the 3′ x 5′ world map to a foam backing and hung it on our then elementary-aged son’s bedroom wall. Armed with three sets of push pins, Clay quickly marked where he’d lived with orange flag pins, where he’d visited with green headed pins, and where he wanted to go with blue flag pins. We intended the map to inspire him to travel and explore. We also saw it as a way for him to stay connected with places he had lived and visited. Over the years, Clay added pins to the map to annotate his experiences and aspirations.
Fifteen-plus years had passed since we hung up the map in his room. Now it was sitting in the garage with the pins sorted in three adjacent Ziploc bags. I asked Jamie what we should do with it, and she texted Clay to get his input. I expected him to say, “Put it back on the shelf. How dare you try to get rid of my map?”
His response brought a tear to my eye. He wrote, “It has served its purpose.”
In other words, go ahead and get rid of it.
I was about to push back and proclaim that it had vaulted to family heirloom status until Jamie said, “He’s right. It has served its purpose.”
You see, Clay lives in Atlanta and is a creative producer for a global company. His career has him traveling the world and working on film projects. In his free time, Clay hikes mountains, explores national parks, and goes on road trips. Clay is the definition of adventurous.
The map served its purpose.
At that moment, I found it hard to let it go. For a split second, I considered arguing that the map would someday adorn our grandchild’s wall. But who was I kidding? Clay may ultimately have kids. He may choose a similar route to inspire them; however, it won’t be with more than a two-decade-old map that has been gathering dust in our garage. He will want, as he should, to forge a different path to the same destination.
Don’t get me wrong; I can be as nostalgic as the next person. I hang on to some family treasures; this wasn’t one of them. It was a tool and a rather worn-out one at that. It was a means to the end, not the end. The real treasure is found in pictures of our travels, stories of our adventures, and Clay’s drive to explore.
The map left our garage that day. Thankfully, it didn’t end up in the trash, as a neighbor said they could put it to good use. I’m not sure what that purpose is, but I know that the job we hired the map to do all those years ago was a success.
In reflecting on the situation, I thought about the many processes, systems, and structures I’ve encountered that had long since served their purpose but were still being clung to by leaders, teams, or organizations. These are the sources of phrases like, “that’s not how we do it here,” or the fodder for arguments against a well-needed change.
As a leader, your job is to build systems that support people’s best efforts, create excellence, and deliver enduring results. Of equal importance, you need to be willing to dismantle systems that have served their purpose.
Don’t confuse the means to the end with the end itself.
Make it a great day! Patrick
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.