Leadership and the big rocks

This is likely to be a familiar story:  A teacher filled a beaker with some relatively large rocks, and she asked her class whether the glass was full.  The students declared that it was.

The teacher then added some pebbles, which filled in the spaces between the larger cobbles.  “And is it full now?” she asked.  Yes, said the students, now it’s really full.

And then the teacher poured sand into the beaker, and the sand settled into the spaces between the pebbles.  The students declared the glass completely full now.  “And so,” asked the teacher, “you don’t think I can fit anything more into this container?”  The students agreed.  The glass was full.

With a smile, the teacher then poured water into the beaker, so that all the pore space between the rocks and pebbles and sand was filled.

“What can we learn from this experiment?” the teacher asked the class.  (Of course, one student volunteered, “No matter how full our lives are, we can always cram in something more.”)

But here’s the lesson:  When planning — for a project or for life — we need to fit the important things in first (the big rocks), and then we can fit the other, less critical things around them.  If we don’t address the big rocks first, we’ll never find the time or space to fit them in.

At Southern Polytechnic, we have focused on identifying the big rocks early in our planning processes.  Our current strategic plan focuses on just three:  supporting student success, increasing resources, and strengthening community.  An earlier version of SPSU’s strategic plan explicitly discussed the big rocks.    Here’s the visual for our big rocks from a couple of years ago.Image


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