#3 The Law of Process

images We live in a world that feeds our insatiable need for immediate gratification. Like our microwave dinners, we want results quick. Once we were estatic about getting our film developed in just an hour and then for a time we were impressed by the magic of the Polaroid. Now what we catch with our cell phone can become viral in an instant.

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When I lived in South America I was excited to find a FAX machine and marveled at the idea that I could send my parents a letter and my dad would receive it at his office that same day!

We know what we want and we want it now. We want the compounding effect of a wise investment made fifty years ago, but we want it in fifty minutes.

Row of Stacks of One Hundred Dollar Bills

The third law of leadership is the Law of Process. The idea that leadership develops daily, not in a day. Long lasting results, rewarding growth, and outstanding outcomes are the results of process and time.

Leadership is influence and in the course of each day mothers, fathers, spouses, children, brothers, sisters, coaches, teachers, neighbors, and friends attempt to influence others.
That is why it is surprising to me that so many people fail to recognize the value of leadership or actually consider themselves leaders. Many people believe that the study of leadership is really only for those at the top of the corporate ladder. If this is the case, they have no idea of the opportunities they are passing up when they don’t learn to lead.

Many people may not think of a twelve-year-old girl in French braids and Wranglers as much of a leader. But it was then that I was learning the power of influence and the value of the Law of Process.

As a “tween” and young teen, I spent the majority of my time with my best friend, my teammate, and my horse, “Zipper”. He was just a three-year-old and so together we were both young and deep in life’s learning processes.

Zipper was not unlike any three-year-old child whose attention span was measured in seconds and could be temporarily diverted by a bird overhead and redirected just as quickly by a suspicious rustling in the grass.  Sitting astride his strong back, I watched the movements of his ears closely.  He moved them around like antennae curiously working to get as much information about the world that he could. I learned that if I wanted to keep him out of mischief I had to stay one step ahead of the twitch in his ears.

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Our favorite events were the speed events: barrel racing and pole bending.  Zipper and I both loved the adrenaline rush we felt right before we took off and lived for the speed of every turn, but our favorite part was the straight stretch back to the finish line.  I think we really excelled in these events because there was no time for distractions.  Even Zipper at an early age could stay focused for at least 14-15 seconds!

The bigger challenge for us was the trail event.  In trail riding, the horse and rider must navigate through a series of obstacles designed to resemble situations a horse and rider might find in natural surroundings.  For example, opening and closing a gate, walking over bridges, jumping over fences, backing through tight turns, walking through water, transporting sometimes “spooky” objects and even sometimes ground-tying your horse (leaving the horse untied in one spot while the rider temporarily walks away).  Points were awarded and deducted according to how clean and successful each obstacle was maneuvered. All of these things, you can imagine were tough for a horse with Zipper’s attention span.

But Zipper was smart. I knew we could be good at this event too. However, here is where the Law of Process came into play. Together Zipper and I spent endless hours working on different skills.  Sometimes we spent an hour on just one obstacle. I allowed him to take only one small step then I would wait and wait and wait until his ears stopped shifting around and I could tell he was paying attention to me. Then we would take another step and repeat the process.  Sometimes it was several minutes between individual steps. In time, he learned we weren’t going anywhere until he focused on my cues.  Eager to move, he eventually became very attentive and I could tell by his ears that he was waiting intently for my next signal.  Over time he learned he could trust me to guide him even backwards through an obstacle he couldn’t see.

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There was a process in going over the jumps too.  We didn’t start at the top.  We started low and slowly raised the bar.  We began to jump higher and higher.  Sure, we missed a few, but in time Zipper loved clearing them as much as I did.

They say that champions don’t become champions in the ring — they are merely recognized there.  That is true.  It was long cold nights under arena lights; it was hot, dusty, and sun scorching days; it was mistakes and it was patience. Ultimately it was our daily routine that led us to become World Champions at the ripe old ages of 14 and 5 years old respectively.

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As a young girl with my horse I learned to influence, learned how to gain trust over time, learned how to love unconditionally, and learned patience and the rewards of the Law of Process. I continually use these lessons as I lead youth, coach teams, mentor staff, build relationships, lead myself (admittedly the hardest person for me to lead) and even train my dog.

Leadership is life-long learning.  It is our daily habits that get us ready no matter what the goal. There are no quick-fixes or magic short-cuts.  Short-cuts may sometimes get us there faster if we don’t get lost in the process. But short-cuts don’t guarantee we’ll stay at our destination once we get there.  Short-cuts can also cheat us of some incredible perspective-changing views and development that can only occur on the journey.

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I started swimming again on a regular basis and I began to notice the same man was always in the pool before I got there and he was still swimming when I was done over an hour later.  He doesn’t swim fast, in fact, he just kind of kicks on his side.  We are now good friends and he inspires me.  His name is Phil and he told me that just over a year ago he began swimming two hours in the morning and often two more hours in the evening.  Incredible right?  Even better, is the smile on his face when he explains that in this past year he has lost over 100 pounds!

Phil understands the Law of Process.  He did not go looking for a quick-fix, he knew he had to change what he did on a regular basis and make movement towards his goal of being fit and healthy a part of his daily routine.  Unlike so many that drop weight only to gain it back, I know Phil is on a sure path to achieve the lifestyle and health he wants for life because he understands the Law of Process.

If you want to be a leader, if you want to have more influence over those you who look to you for guidance (be it yourself, your children or even your dog), the good news is that you can.  Everyone has the potential to raise their leadership lid — even the best leaders can become better, but it isn’t accomplished overnight.

Take just little steps or little bites.  It doesn’t happen all at once.  If you are ready to start a diet you don’t have to jump in and cut out everything you love right off the bat.  It’s a process.  Start with drinking more water.  Want to take your team to the national championships?  Start with creating a winning culture in practice. Whatever you are doing and wherever you are leading, make sure to get in for the long haul.

You can’t ignore the Law of Process.  We are in this forever, growth and the results we want take a lifetime.  Enjoy the journey.

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The Law of Process is the third law in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.  Look for Law #4 The Law of Navigation next week!

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