Psst! . . . Want to Grow?

big fish smallbowl

In 1881 The Galveston Daily News described the vested business interests in Galveston as behaving like “big fish in a small pond”, and the phrase has stuck in American literature ever since.  There is a lot to be said in favour of being the big fish in a small pond, especially in business.  It’s less riskier since you can make most of the decisions; other people don’t challenge you; you can talk more, do less work and still get away with it. And you get all the best projects!  What’s not to like?

Psst!  Wanna Grow?

The only way to build bigger muscles is to lift heavier weights!  ~Arnold Schwartznegger

 When I was in college at the University of California, Riverside, I played baseball on the college team.  In the summer we would try to play on one of the semi-pro teams in the Los Angeles area. I was not a great baseball player, but I loved the game and had dreams of making the big leagues some day.  So, I would try out for the best semi-pro team in the area with the thought that if I could play with better players, it would help improve my abilities.  It was great fun.

I didn’t play every game but I got to practice with some of the best up and coming players in southern California, many of whom I later had the pleasure of watching on TV in the baseball world series as they grew into professional players.  I remember the thrill of watching on TV as former teammate Johnny Lowenstein hit a home run in the 1983 World Series.  I guess I could have had more playing time with lower ability teams, but I doubt if I would have learned as much.

As a young management consultant I always volunteered for the big complex assignments where I was not at all the expert or best qualified.  I had to run fast to catch up on my skills and knowledge in various aspects of business, but in just a few years I learned much more than those who volunteered for a safer backseat role.  I would spend half the night cramming in new knowledge for the next day, and half the next day talking to senior business people in order to learn and grow.

Today, when I go fly fishing to various places in the world, I always try to go with those who are much better than me.  Seems to me the only way to learn and grow in my casting and fishing skills.

Leadership and learning are indispensable from each other.  ~John F. Kennedy

If you want to grow, then the comfort zone is the last place you want to be.  You need to try new things, volunteer for difficult assignments, read twice as much as the next person. Leaders are never 100% certain about the road ahead.  There is always the risk of failure. Certainty or security is not an option for leaders, but determination and preparation are!

My Comfort Zone – A Poem

Author Unknown

I used to have a comfort zone where I knew I wouldn’t fail.
The same four walls and busy work were really more like jail.
I longed so much to do the things I’d never done before,
But stayed inside my comfort zone and paced the same old floor.

I said it didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing much.
I said I didn’t care for things like commission checks and such.
I claimed to be so busy with the things inside the zone,
But deep inside I longed for something special of my own.

I couldn’t let my life go by just watching others win.
I held my breath; I stepped outside and let the change begin.
I took a step and with new strength I’d never felt before,
I kissed my comfort zone goodbye and closed and locked the door.

If you’re in a comfort zone, afraid to venture out,
Remember that all winners were at one time filled with doubt.
A step or two and words of praise can make your dreams come true.
Reach for your future with a smile; success is there for you!

Stretch yourself and watch yourself grow.  Get out of the small pond into a big pond if you want to learn and develop your capabilities.


John R. Childress

Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, available from Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014.

John also writes thriller novels:




About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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