Robert Fulghum wrote a book called “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.” I’ve often thought that if I were to pen a tome in a similar vein, it would be titled “All I Ever Need to Know as a Leader I Learned from Rudyard Kipling.” Or to be more specific, the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling.
Sages and pithy quotes abound, and we are surrounded by data. The internet puts more information at our fingertips than we can possibly process or absorb. What makes a poem written well over a hundred years ago relevant? What makes “If” stand out from the buzz and clutter? There is a vast difference between knowledge and wisdom, between intelligence and acumen. Rudyard Kipling’s “If” contains more wisdom, line for line, than most anything else written in the King’s English.
What’s more, the thoughts are expressed with lyrical beauty that makes them easy to remember, so easy to call to mind in the heat of the relevant moment. And it’s not want we know, it’s what we do.
“If” is about keeping your balance, about finding the rational, sane middle ground between the extremes of human experience. These are essential aspects of leadership, especially leadership in uncertain times and situations.
One by one, favorite lines willingly roll out of memory:
“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too”
“If all men count with you, but none too much”
“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch”
These simple but elegant lines have comforted me and guided me through good times and bad. I commend them to you.
by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream, and not make dreams your master;
If you can think, and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: “Hold on”;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings, nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son!