The Chief of Engineers (and a great leader), Lieutenant General Van Antwerp, tells a wonderful story about walnuts and rice. It goes something like this:
Take a jar, a handful of rice (enough to fill the jar) and a handful of walnuts. If you put the rice in first and then the walnuts, you will find that there is not enough room in the jar for both. You can push as hard as you want -- they won't fit. On the other hand, if you put the walnuts in the jar first and then the rice, the rice will fill around the nuts and they both will fit fine.
What's the message? The walnuts are our priorities. In life they may represent faith, family, and friends. At work, they may represent the truly important, difference-making tasks that must be done. The rice is the ankle biters, the things that really don't contribute to our personal or professional success. They are the easy things that we take on but that prevent us from getting to the difficult yet significant tasks that we know we must do. The rice represents the urgent things that keep us from ever getting to the important.
Think about this little vignette and what it means for how we prioritize our actions. The rice is everywhere. It prevents us from spending quality time with our family. It stops us from transforming our workplace. And you know what? It will ALWAYS be there. We often think that if we can just clear out the rice, we can make space for the walnuts. The rice keeps coming!
I can certainly appreciate this message. It tells me to FOCUS ON THE WALNUTS! Put first things first -- at home, at work, in my personal / professional / physical / spiritual life. Be disciplined about taking on those things -- first -- that truly matter, that will make a difference, that can change the debate, that can change the world!
The rice will always be there. Get after the walnuts! That's Leader Business.
*** See here for the lyrics to the song, Walnuts and Rice, by Kevin Briody.