Jack Be Nimble: Lessons from the Fire

As a young mother, I was anxious to introduce my kids to the beloved nursery rhymes from my childhood. I still had the treasured Mother Goose book that I read as a child and one day I sat down to read to my kids through new eyes. Yikes!



As an optimist and one who likes to bring work and play together, I've got to say there are some rough lessons in those nursery rhymes, but as I searched, I found myself fixated on one that left the outcome to us. Thank you Mother Goose, for "Jack Be Nimble."



Not only does "Jack Be Nimble" offer a happy ending, it also teaches us about successful planning, mobility, endurance and…nimbleness. 



Unlike our heroes and heroines in “Humpty Dumpty” and “Jack and Jill,” nimble Jack experiences a successful outcome - jumping over the candlestick (apparently for the fun of it). And from the illustrated pictures I have seen, the flame is well-established and offers the nursery rhyme world an early precursor to Anthony Robbins' Fire Walk.



From the first phrase, Jack was destined for success. He was nimble. He was quick. And although it may seem simple in its execution, there’s a bigger story to be told.



In fact, five leadership principles are brought to light by the nimble Jack.

  1. Aim high.

  2. Know the end goal.

  3. Establish a plan of action.

  4. Create momentum before you jump.

  5. Jump high.

  6. Envision success.


Aim High. Excellence is born out of reaching above the bar. Knowing what we want to achieve and setting attainable goals are both crucial. But as leaders, we want to inspire goal-setting conversations that bring us to a point just above the bar. Any pole vaulter will tell you that the secret to their success isn’t aiming for the bar, it’s aiming higher than the bar. Where are you reaching?



Know the end goal. Articulating where we are going and why we are going there is central to any successful effort – this is true at the individual level or at the group, team or organization-level. I would guess that Jack knew what he wanted to achieve before he put his plan into motion and so should every leader. Be sure to articulate and think your goal in positive terms. For example, while Jack could've stated his goal as not getting burned; consider a positive motivating statement that states the goal in positive terms - jump high enough to clear the flame by 3 inches. What's your end goal?



Establish a plan of action. You are standing there looking at the fire; you know what you want to achieve; now you need a plan of action. If you hope to “jump over a fire,"  - individually or collectively - I’d recommend thinking it through beforehand. What's your fire? What do you need to do to succeed? What’s got to happen? If you are a leader responsible for the group’s effort, sharing the vision - better yet, involve them in the creation process. People want to be involved in establishing plans that they are responsible for executing; there are so many ways to involve people and so few reasons not to involve them. Buy-in is essential. What's your plan of action?



Create momentum before you jump. Our Jack scenario required some physical momentum and I would wager that there was a moment of anticipation right before the leap when concentration was high and energy was stored. You might imagine an Olympic ice skater right before executing a quadruple axel. Things are in motion before the jump actually takes place. Achievement of organizational and/or personal goals requires the same type of momentum-building. Momentum is built over time - one interaction at a time, one meeting at a time, one expectation at a time. Make sure your team is aligned or goal achievement may be hindered. What can you do to shift or build momentum?



Envision success. The correlation between envisioning positive outcomes and achieving success has a strong foothold in the literature and has important implications at the individual and organizational levels. Jack’s inner dialogue could have been, “I’m never going to be able to do this.” But I’m going to imagine that Jack was a positive sort of fellow and that he envisioned himself successfully on the other side of that flame. If Jack were leading a team, it would have been just as important for him to instill a vision for success for all who jumped with him. If Humpty Dumpty were one of Jack’s team members, I can hear Jack offering the following positive coaching, ”All right Humpty, you have a lot of mass but good legs and a hard shell to protect you from the flame. All you need to do is land softly and roll it out….”. Accentuate the positive - build confidence - and go for it.



Jack may have jumped over the candlestick for the fun of it and I hope he did, but I suspect there was some strategy that went into his leap - before, during and after.



Planning, at this level, can keep us from getting burned.



© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact kathy@refreshmentzone.com for more information. 

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