Small Wins and One Red Paperclip

Lisa Shannon

I'm the kind of leader that struggles with small wins. Generally obsessed with the big picture and often impatient with what I feel like are the tedious steps necessary to reach the end state, Small Wins just seem like hurdles, when I'd rather be pole vaulting. Still, I understand the concept (as well as being acutely aware of my shortcomings as a leader), and it certainly makes sense to me. In fact, when I think about Small Wins a smile appears on my face as I hear Mickey Rooney singing, "Put one step in front of the other" from the childhood holiday classic Santa Clause is Comin' to Town. Of course, I say to myself, one step in front of the other.

I recently gained a whole new appreciation for small wins after a hearing a report by Adam Davidson on NPR. The story begins just over a year ago with 27-year-old Kyle McDonald who wanted to revive a childhood trading game. In the ultimate internet barter, Kyle started with one red paperclip and in just fourteen trades, ended up with a 3-bedroom house in the Town of Kipling, Saskatchewan. The story goes onto say how he has become a "media sensation," flying around the world for media interviews and appearing on Good Morning America, CNN, and 20/20 here in the United States. In his report, Davidson goes onto say that "inspiring" is the word most often used to describe Kyle McDonald's quest. His story is causing people to wonder about their own red paperclip in the context of the first step toward a goal or dream.

Kyle's story is a bit too gimmicky to inspire me, but it has become a powerful testament to the power of Small Wins. He not only got the house, but he got the world rooting for him to get the house. Total strangers from around the globe began to share his vision as one trade led to another, led to another, led to another. In The Leadership Challenge Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner put it this way, "Successful leaders help other to see how progress can be made by breaking the journey down into measurable goals and milestones…. Leaders keep the dream in mind; then they act and adapt on the move."

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