What my lawnmower taught me about leadership

July 10, 2013 — 4 Comments

CIMG0465My one year old lawnmower refused to start this summer. For anyone that knows me, you may know that I have had more than my fair share of lawnmower problems. Since moving to NC five years ago, I have owned four different mowers. So the fact that last year I bought a brand new mower and now less than a year later I was having problems again – well I wasn’t excited about it. The good news was that the mower was still under warranty. Or so I thought. After arranging to have it serviced at the place I bought it, I was told that the issue I had wasn’t covered by the warranty. Of course not. They then wanted either $150 to fix it, or $65 just for having told me that the warranty wouldn’t cover it. I said no to both, worked it out, and eventually brought my mower home to begin the DIY/google/youtube search for a solution.

All in all I spent several weeks working on it at different times. I took it apart, replaced the spark plug, replaced the old gas with new, cleaned out the carburetor, just about everything I could find – I did it. And still, no luck. At times I could start it for a couple of seconds, but then it would die.

My general pattern was to work on it, get frustrated, give up, wait a few days, try again, and repeat.

Until finally – breakthrough. After trying the same things over and over again, I finally thought of one thing I hadn’t tried. I got a tiny piece of wire and pushed it through a tiny jet in the carburetor. At first it hung up, and suddenly it pushed through. As if there was something blocking it and suddenly it gave way. And as it turns out, after getting it all put back together – it ran like a champ. I had finally conquered it, and I did it without spending a dime.

So that’s a giant lead in to this. Here’s a few lessons I learned about leadership in this process:

Don’t quit. Despite my frustration on numerous occasions, my persistence eventually paid off. Many times the problems we are dealing with can frustrate us to the point where we quit. I can’t tell you how many times I considered just simply putting the mower out with the trash and starting over. We do this in leadership sometimes too. Rather than fixing what’s broken, sometimes we quit. Either we stop trying to fix it and just learn to live with a broken system or we scrap it completely and start over. But not every problem should be avoided. Sometimes the lessons we learn by persisting through the problem are too important to miss. Sometimes it’s a person that we give up on too early rather than helping them to grow or to become a better leader. Don’t quit too early. I know I’ve given up on situations or people that I wish I hadn’t. I wish I would have fixed the problem rather than quitting.

Sometimes it’s the little things. There were dozens of much larger parts that I inspected, tightened, cleaned, examined, tested, etc. In the end, it was a tiny little clog that made the difference. And it wasn’t a tool like a wrench, a hammer, or a ratchet that got the job done – it was a tiny little wire, my wife’s scrapbooking wire to be exact (apparently that’s a thing). How many times do we overlook the little things that keep our organization from moving forward while we try and fix things that aren’t actually broken. The temptation is to think that every problem has a proportionate solution. Big problem – big solution. It’s not necessarily the case though. Sometimes it’s a tiny fix that makes all the difference in the world. In my world that has often been a communication issue. Often a simple conversation averts what feels like a giant disaster waiting to happen. Rather than new sweeping policy for everyone in the organization (the hammer) maybe it’s a simple conversation with one person that will fix what’s broken.

But sometimes it’s the big things. There’s one part of the story that I didn’t tell you yet. You see, in my euphoria mowing the lawn with my newly fixed, running like a champ mower, I was thoroughly enjoying the smell of fresh cut grass and the site of the beautiful lines I was carving into the wilderness known as my yard, when I made a fatal error. I got a little greedy with just how close I could cut the grass around the backyard trampoline and ran right over one of the supporting legs. The mower made a loud noise, parts exploded off the side, and it instantly died. Months of frustration, five minutes of glory, and it was all over. Bent crankshaft (in other words, game over), never to start again. There are some things we cannot recover from as leaders. Some things we can never undo. Often it’s in those high moments – those times of great celebration – when it’s easy to let our guard down. All it takes is one foolish mistake in a moment like that and it’s game over. No matter how great of a leader you are, no matter what you’ve accomplished, it can all be gone in a moment. Don’t let the big things take you down. Don’t try to see how close you can get when wisdom says to stay away. Its not worth it.

In other news…. I need a lawnmower. Again.


photo by: russelljsmith

Jeremy Copeland

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4 responses to What my lawnmower taught me about leadership

  1. Love this Jeremy! Great insight. Sorry about the lawn mower though.

  2. Haha, someone already generously replaced my dead one! Woo-hoo! I should start a counter to see how long it lasts.

  3. You can have mine. It works. I pay the guy next door.

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