Here are some thoughts about leadership that I learned last week while singing “The Little Drummer Boy” with my 4-year-old.
For those of you who don’t know the story or need a refresher, it’s about a low-income, rural shepherd boy who goes to see that very special baby that everyone’s talking about. When he gets there, he finds himself among a crowd of wealthy people with expensive gifts for the child.
The shepherd boy pauses, looks down at his dirty clothes and empty pockets, and begins to doubt that he belongs there. He has nothing of value to give. The only thing he can think of to do is play a song on his drum for the baby, so that’s what he does. The boy’s beautiful song touches the hearts of everyone present -- even the animals tap their hooves to the beat -- and the baby smiles at him. His gift is cherished, and he has indeed made a difference.
Two lines from the song struck me as relevant to this leadership path of ours:
1. "I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give (a) king.”
The little drummer boy stands there watching all the rich people parade by with their fine clothes and costly gifts, and he starts to doubt that could possibly offer anything that would matter. He wonders why he should even bother.
Haven’t we all felt like this at times?
Don’t we all sometimes look around at our colleagues with fancier degrees, longer work experience, more confident personalities, better people skills, or anything else we lack that other people have -- because that’s what we tend to notice most, am I right? -- and start to doubt that what we have to offer matters? We shake our heads and tell ourselves we can’t compete with all that.
What the little drummer boy’s story taught me is that all of our gifts matter, despite the fact that they come all different shapes and sizes. Or, really, because they all come in different shapes and sizes. His song didn’t matter any less than the other, more expensive gifts the baby received, and it also didn’t matter more. (Let’s pretend that the modern equivalent of frankincense and myrrh is a case of diapers and a baby monitor.) They’re helpful, too. All the gifts played a unique role in welcoming the baby into the world.
Just like the collective combination of special skills and talents, when contributed fully, makes our organizations run most efficiently.
2. “I played my drum for him. I played my best for him.”
Emphasizing different parts of this line reveals several lessons.
"I played my drum for him.” The little drummer boy worries that what he has to offer pales in comparison to what others are giving, but he doesn’t just stand there and he doesn’t walk away. He gives his gift anyway. Even though he feels intimidated, he stays in the game and takes action.
"I played my drum for him.” The boy uses what he already has. He doesn’t cast his humble drum aside and try to play someone else’s drum. He doesn’t decide that flutes are more impressive and try to play that instead. He goes ahead and does what he knows how to do well, the activity that comes naturally to him and in which he is practiced.
"I played my best for him.” Even though the shepherd boy feels quite sure that his gift is inferior to the other ones, he doesn’t phone it in or put forth a half-assed effort. He tries his hardest, even though he thinks he’s already beaten.
Let’s all of us play our drum -- embrace and contribute our unique gifts no matter how we’ve judged them in the past - and play it the best we can -- practice excellence in all our endeavors.
Thoughts? I’d love to hear them. Share by clicking here.
I wish you a happy holiday season and a beautiful start to the new year.
Your partner on the path of leadership excellence,