Achieving Escape Velocity


grav·i·ty (ˈgravitē) n. The natural force that attracts a body toward the center of any physical body having mass.

Years ago, while traveling in Australia, a SCUBA trip I had planned fell through, so on a whim I found a skydiving school and asked if I could skydive that day.

The bloke across the counter picked up a ball-point pen, held it 18 inches over the sign-in sheet, and let go. As soon as the pen hit the paper he looked up.

“Yup,” he said, “Gravity’s working today.”

The earth’s gravitational pull is so ubiquitous that we hardly even notice it. We don’t think twice about the force that keeps us planted where we are, prevents the air we’re breathing from floating away, and even slings the moon around every month.

So what’s this have to do with leadership?

The earth isn’t the only thing that pulls on you. There are many things that tug on you and those you’re leading. Here are a few things that have a subtle and powerful gravity all their own:

  • The Status Quo. You’ve felt this force before. Whenever you attempt even the slightest change, you are immediately met with a resistance—a gentle tug drawing you back to the way things used to be, the things you know, the way it’s always been before.
  • The Ordinary. Ordinary is easy. It’s where people are nice and performance is fine. Most people mull around here, where their best hope is for a brush with something more. Some emerge for a moment, only to be pulled back down. It’s tough to maintain the extraordinary.
  • Your Self. The gravity of your self is the most faint and ferocious of all. At best, it appears as your need to protect and justify yourself or to be respected. At worst it can collapse into a black hole of addiction that brings everyone around you down as well.

In order to slip the clutches of the earth’s gravity, rockets must reach what’s called escape velocity—the speed at which a projectile will no longer fall back to earth or settle into a closed orbit. Escape velocity is the speed of freedom.

People don’t stumble into outer space. In the same way, people don’t accidentally escape the gravity of the status quo, the ordinary, or themselves. It takes planning, purpose, and courage to break free from the way things have always been, to achieve something truly extraordinary, or to lose yourself in service to others.

That’s where you come in. Your job as a leader is to help people achieve their escape velocity.

What’s pulling you down? How will you achieve escape velocity?

6 thoughts on “Achieving Escape Velocity”

  1. The analysis is very encouraging. I have for sometime now lived on the status quo level and fear moving to the next level in order not to disturb the ordinary, as if something is pulling me down. Somehow I have lived in a comfort zone for too long & therefore stagnant. I want to shake off this comfort and move forward.

    1. Winnie, thanks for your honesty and self awareness. I think the first step to getting out of your comfort zone is realizing that you’re in your comfort zone—well done!

      So, I’m curious. What are you going to do now?

  2. I love the headline! Great analogy and thought provoking post! A leader’s job is to challenge himself AND the status quo—to stir the pot and to stir it good!

    And speaking of natural laws and physics, I’m fascinated by the way that life and circumstances can conspire like an earthquake to shake the very foundation on which we build this thing called “security”.

    No such thing. It’s an illusion.

    The process of change is constant and we have to embrace it and drive it, instead of risking the possibility of it driving us!

    This much I know: the worst feeling in the world is NOT being constrained by gravity and the status quo; the worst feeling in the world is feeling the earth being pulled from under your feet!

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