Reach For Excellence By Staying In The Middle

by | Jan 28, 2013


Icarus was the son of Daedalus. They were imprisoned on an island together. Daedalus used his skills as an inventor to build wings for himself and Icarus. He used wax and string to fasten feathers to reeds of varying lengths to imitate the curves of birds’ wings.

Leadership Lesson On Reaching for Excellence Based on the story of Icarus

Courtesy of www.istockphoto.com by EC_Hallex 


As they stood on the highest cliff about to take flight, Daedalus warned Icarus to fly at medium altitude.  He warned, If they flew too high, the sun could melt the wax of their wings.  Fly to low, and the sea water would dampen and weigh down the feathers.  Either way, the wings would fail and death would be unavoidable.

As any young boy would, Icarus became exhilarated once in flight. Ignoring his father’s warning, he flew higher and higher. Sure enough, the sun melted the wax holding his wings together, and Icarus fell into the water and drowned.

This story has a great cautionary lesson for leaders.

Excellence is found by a continues pursuit of providing sustainable delivery of the mission better than you did the day before.  (tweet that)

Sustainable, that’s the key.  I could grow our organization very quickly.  I have the knowledge and skill to, and I’m sure that’s the same with you.

But what good is rapid growth, without the systems and ability to maintain it over time?  In business we can’t work from a wristwatch, we have to work from a calendar.  I learned this lesson the hard way, through failure.

We should always always always be reaching to deliver the best.  But, that doesn’t mean reaching up…it means reaching out.  Like Icaras, fly to high and you will get burnt.

Here are some ways flying to high can bring an organization down:

  • Using debt to expand your business.
  • Growing by adding new staff too quickly.
  • Hiring staff without a ridiculously thorough screening and interview process.
  • Declining quality in the pursuit of quantity.
  • ??? Add to the comments your warnings of flying to high.

But wait.

Icarus was also warned about flying to low.

Here are some ways flying to low can bring an organization down:

  • Settling for the states quo.
  • Getting caught up in, “we’ve always done it that way”.
  • Buying into the praise and hype of your most thrilled customer, which will cause you to become complacent.
  • Trying to please everyone by not standing firm in your convictions.
  • ??? Add to the comments your warnings of flying to low.

As a leader, I must be ever watchful for the dangers of flying to high.  But, I must also make sure we don’t get comfortable or lazy and fly to low.  I want us to continue moving into the ever expanding horizon of our future.  I want us to use wisdom to achieve excellence.

How do you keep your organization flying “just right”?  What other lessons can you pull from Icarus?  If you disagree with me, why?

Thanks For Reading

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