Approaching LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) last Friday, the captain pointed out the NASA Boeing 747 escorted by two US Airforce fighter jets piggybacking Shuttle Endeavour to its final resting place at the California Science Center. The site was beautiful, nostalgic and a source of pride.
But the metaphor went further: Here was a craft capable of taking dozens of people on 26 flights hundreds of miles into space and back again but needing to be piggybacked to get from Florida to California. The aircraft carrying the Shuttle is not able to fly any higher than some 40,000ft. Boeings can't get into orbit and space shuttles can't get to California. Even the most powerful of us others to accomplish our goals. Definitely a lesson in humility there.
Some people can fly into outer space, they can see the big picture, and they can inspire audiences of thousands of people or more to embrace monumental change. Yet often these same people are not particularly good at intimate one-on-one relationships, at the details of strategy implementation or on taking the people they follow on the short cumulative hops that make up incremental progress. Think of Winston Churchill, British Wartime Prime Minister, and his inspiring speeches and brilliant military strategy. After the war was won though, he was defeated at the polls; the people didn't regard him as the right man to attack the arduous task of rebuilding the nation and the world after the war. Even people who can fly, sometimes need to be piggybacked by others on shorter, less glamorous but equally important journeys.
When you build a team you need both types of people on it (and many other types too). You need the people who have vision and the energy to boost the team into new paradigms of thoughts, to altitudes from which they can look at their business and industry with perspectives no one else has. Then you also need the individual who, when the team comes down from its dazzling heights, can lead them in decision-making and manage their implementation through to completion. You need boosters and you need transport carriers.
Are you the booster engine of your team, the Shuttle that does the exploring, or the 747 that carries the team on the short hops to implementation? In your life, who are your 747s, the people you rely on to carry your load when you are not equipped to do so? Their task is not glamorous, they never get to see the visions of space. Yet, without them how effective would you be? Do they know how important they are in your life? Are you good at showing gratitude?
These were the questions I asked myself as the glamorous but helpless Endeavour was carried to its final place of glory.