November 15, 2019
Chop Wood, Carry Water sounds a lot like Mr. Miyagi saying, “Wax on…wax off.” And in some regards the phrases do represent the same thing. To be clear, Chop Wood, Carry Water is the title of an excellent book on mastering one’s craft (by J. Medcalf). And that’s what Mr. Miyagi was trying to teach Ralph Macchio’s character in “The Karate Kid.” Both texts are about the importance of disciplined action.
A memorable quote cited in this book is, “Under pressure you don’t rise to the occasion; you sink to the level of your training.” There are hundreds, probably thousands of books, seminars and lectures on the various ways to inspire yourself, your team, your direct reports and even your leaders to achieve greatness. But nothing is as clear as “Under pressure you don’t rise to the occasion; you sink to the level of your training.”
It has been said that excellence is not one great event, but the result of practicing a skill so often and so hard that when needed, the skill is available to its user and “Viola!” greatness happens. Winning shots, touchdowns and field goals are made. The perfect idea is mentioned in a brainstorming meeting- the previously overlooked Geek knows exactly how to re-wire, re-program or override some system so the good guys deliver. These magic moments seem like just that…magic. But they are in fact the result of disciplined action. That hard-bodied person that just won Ninja Warriors? Didn’t get that six-pack of lean abs and super-strong body just last night. The disciplined actions the athlete took to eat right, work out, decline that alcoholic beverage and do just two more reps is what produced that body strong enough to win.
Disciplined actions are important because they form the habits that help people recover when they are temporarily un-disciplined. A person with the flu or other medical condition is not as apt to follow a strict diet and exercise regime. Nor is a person celebrating a milestone event be it birthday, graduation, wedding or a marathon. But people with disciplined actions, with disciplined habits, won’t have much difficulty picking up where they left off. They’ll only fall to the level of their training.
Such is the way of leaders. Disciplined actions aren’t regulated to only sports and physical contests. Business leaders train by learning new skills, collaborating effectively, asking questions, and putting a little extra into their presentations and conversations. The world of business is where the playing field is mental and the reps result in dollar signs and signed contracts, not medals, rings, or endorsement deals. Leaders may make mistakes. They may misinterpret reports or miss deadlines or flights or have temporary lapses of judgment. But the greater their training, the smaller the distance of their ‘fall.’
Many amazing people exemplify this concept- Michael Jordan, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Elvis Presley, Steve Jobs, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Steven Spielberg, Stephen King. These are the famous people. There are far more non-famous people exemplifying these skills and tenacity. Are you one of them? Not yet? Just takes training. Just takes disciplined action!