My favourite childhood book was ‘The Little Engine That Could.’ If you’ve never read it, or if you’ve never had it read to you, you’ve missed a classic!
The earliest English record of the story goes back to 1906, when a New York pastor told the story as part of a sermon. ‘Foundation Stones of Success’ included it in its series of books in 1910. I absorbed the Watty Piper version. The story centres around the smallest engine in the train yard taking on the challenge of pulling the heaviest train up the steep hill to the neighbouring community after all the large engines declined. The little engine puffed, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” as he hooked up to the large train and as he pulled up the steep hill. I LOVE the part where the little engine struggles with the weight, and he keeps on saying, “I – think – I – can, I – think – I – can.” That expression has served me as a motto and mantra for most of my life.
COVID restrictions and limitations have created some very heavy trains that need to be moved out of the train yard and into the next community. There is a desperate need for ‘I Think I Can’ (ITIC) leaders to step forward and lead friends, neighbours, organizations, communities, provinces, and our nation over the next 12-24 months. If you fit this grid, don’t hold back; be the kind of leader willing to start pulling trains.
ITIC leaders believe in themselves. If you don’t believe in yourself at the end of the day, no one else will believe in you. Self-confidence is your attitude about your skills and abilities. It means that you know, accept and trust yourself, and you believe in your ability to impact the situation/opportunity before you in a positive way.
Know your competencies. Pareto taught us that we get 80% of our results from 20% of our efforts. If you’re planning to pull an organizational, economic, mental health, or any other train up the big hill, you need to know your 20% strengths and stay focused on them. Invite other people to fill in your gaps (while you fill theirs) by tapping into their 20%.
ITIC leaders inspire confidence. Coming out of COVID will require creating the belief that a better day is coming and that you’re the leader who can take your followers there. We generate confidence by staying within our competencies and developing a series of wins that result in momentum.
Model tenacity. You will have bad days, setbacks and disappointments along the way. There will be days you will experience stress, anxiety and self-doubt. You will have times where you want to quit. Please keep moving forward.
When I ran the Vancouver Marathon, I experienced severe calf cramping that required me to walk and miss my set goal of a sub-4:00 time. By the time I was in Kitsilano, my calves were tired, and I was losing my race’s mental battle. I wanted to quit. The defining moment in my race happened when I turned the corner onto the Burrard St. Bridge ramp. I knew that it was 10km from the other side of the bridge to the finish line. I could finish if I could get across the bridge, but I needed to use some ‘I-Think-I-Can’ thinking. Tapping into what I’d learned from hundreds of kilometres of training, I focused on the patch of pavement that was 15 feet ahead of me and set a series of small goals that got me over the bridge and onto the sea wall. From there, it was one foot in front of the other for the next hour in the pouring rain. It wasn’t pretty, but my finish time was 4:31:30. The most important part of my story is that I finished because I found a way to get over the bridge.
There’s a heavy train in your world that needs to be pulled up and over the big hill. Hitch on and start pulling. Your team is counting on you.
— Tim Schindel