Heart of a Leader

Leadership Matters

The Path of Training Wheels


Yesterday, I had one of those heartwarming life experiences. I was present with Michael, our six-year-old, when he rode his bike for the first time without his training wheels. The glow of his inner confidence and joy were breathtaking.

As I watched him become quickly more and more proficient, I was thinking about the importance of training wheels. For Michael, the training wheels provided stability as he became more confident in the use of his bike. There were several times, in the past, when he asked me to remove the training wheels, only to ask me almost immediately to put them back on.

Yesterday was a beautiful summer-like day. We spent time tuning up his bike after exposure to winter’s snow and cold. After a trip to the hardware store to get oil to lubricate the gears and chain, he said,” Papa, can you take off my training wheels?” At first, I wondered if this was just like the other times when he asked and wasn’t ready. I delayed a bit because I didn’t want to take the wheels off, just to put them back on again. Yet, he insisted and so off they came.

With a bit of initial instability, he was off. I held the back of the bike, as parents have done for children for generations. He wobbled and with courage rode down a small hill and around the corner. Someone who was doing work on the farm and witnessed his first-time experience offered heartful congratulations. I watched Michael’s confidence rise. Soon, he was asking for me to step back and allow him to complete his learning of being able to ride the bike on his own.

Quickly, he was riding and turning and stopping. He looked to me and said, “Papa, I know I need to practice to get better, so I’m going to practice and practice.”  I know that Michael will fall as he is learning and that each fall is a lesson that could never be learned while he had the training wheels on. Michael’s experience with his bike’s training wheels is like much of life.

In some ways, training wheels are like the rules that we are given when we are new at something. As children, we are presented with clear rules and boundaries, mostly for our protection and learning about how things work. These rules aren’t meant to be rigid boundaries for all our life. They are there to meet the level of competence or discernment we have attained at the time.

We don’t realize this truth, and sometimes our parents cling to rules that are no longer needed, for their own comfort. This creates tension, as it must, when children are ready to engage life without these training wheels. They will get bumped and bruised and will learn consequences in a way that is only possible without these boundaries.

In business, we provide employees with rules. These rules were developed for control and consistency. I realize that society requires some rules for living in harmony with each other, however, for the most part organizational rules are limiting and diminish the potential of the individual and the organization. What if we treated these rules as training wheels? They are there for guidance and support when someone is new. If we encourage them to take off the training wheels, with support from someone who is already capable, their sense of fulfillment and satisfaction will be benefit everyone involved.

The joy Michael was feeling yesterday could only come from fully experiencing the world of training wheels. He had previously tested his readiness to let go, and stepped back into the safety of the training wheels when he felt he wasn’t ready. Only then could he know the joy of finally letting go of his training wheels.

Each time we enter a new world, we are offered training wheels until we are ready to take the leap of riding our bike solo. Yet, as I get older, I am more and more reluctant to allow myself the use of training wheels. I feel I should already be capable, even in areas I am new to. This reluctance brings great limitations.

We have an opportunity for mastery in our life. Mastery calls us to learn, to step beyond the rules and teachings of others, to the world of our full experience. This full experience feels like the exhilaration of flying. We are not on the ground. We are soaring and learning and growing and experiencing the fullness of life.

I invite you to look at places where you are living by the rules. Are these rules helpful in experiencing your full potential? If they aren’t, perhaps it’s time to take off your training wheels.

Until later,
Thomas

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