When I was about eight, my Mum used to drop me of at the local swimming pool on Saturday mornings with my mate Darrell. Darrell and I were at school together and our Mums were friends. They coincided their weekly visit to the supermarket with our swim.
Not that we swam much. We splashed around and looked at the girls that attended our school, enjoying the sensation of seeing them out of context.
There were three diving boards at the pool. 1m, 3m and 5m high, they occupied the opposite end of the pool and might as well have been in a diferent world. Until one day Darrell noticed Big Kevin, a boy in our class, bouncing of the 1m board.
We thought little of it until at school on Monday, Kevin boasted of his diving proves to a group of girls that included the lovely Alison, a girl for whom Darrell had big plans (though of course, she did not know). Alison seemed impressed by Kevin’s achievements, which irked Darrell so that the following Saturday, he found himself at the end of the 1m board. With me.
In turns, we tottered to the end of the board and bounced of. We didn’t drown, so we did it again. And again. We’d found a new end of the pool and we’d entered a different world.
Kevin was unimpressed but Darrell was able to dream about Alison with more confidence for a while. Until we saw Kevin on the 3m board. A similar cycle was repeated. Monday was a gloomy day for poor old Darrell as he listened to Kevin describe his exploits to the impressionable Alison.
We conferred, and resolved to match Kevin once again. Saturday came quickly and we barely got wet for the first 58 minutes of our allotted hour as we debated strategies. In the end it was me that led the way, falling gracelessly from ten feet up for what seemed like an age. Darrell followed suit and, emboldened, we had time for a few more dives before being dragged away by the lifeguard.
For the next few Saturdays we spent our hour perfecting our technique of the 3m board. I don’t think we even went back to the 1m board once. Alison was impressed, and said as much to Darrell, which set his smile wide and his heart racing.
Predictably enough, Kevin ascended to the 5m board but this time we were ready and matched him in the very same swim session. And from then, of course, we only ever went of the 5m board.
There are two lessons I learned from this which we include in some of our leadership development curricula.
The first is that we have the opportunity every day to define our own identity and given the right inspiration, we can define ourselves as whatever we want to be. Initially Darrell and I were not divers. But inspired by Kevin, who proved that diving from the 1m board would not kill us, we redefined ourselves as 1m boarders. Then 3m boarders. And finally top boarders.
It is true that we were not the pioneers of this experience but that’s not the point. True pioneers are rare and very often dead. The point is that we were happy to reinvent ourselves when stimulated to do so and in the process we grew in stature and confidence and, to our friends at least, became leaders because we had defined ourselves as leaders.
The second lesson concerns the value of perseverance. Darrell and Alison have, at time of writing, been married to each other for 32 years.