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The Delivery Truck Principle: A Sobering Reality of Leadership

The delivery truck principle is a sobering reality in all leadership decisions. 

When I was in the marketplace, my wife and I once owned a small manufacturing company. Most of my time was spent in an office or on the road calling on clients. When I had time, however, I loved to hang out in the factory. I especially enjoyed when delivery trucks dropped off new inventory. For me it meant that we were receiving materials, we could make something, and then – eventually – we could bill someone.

Of course, collecting from the bill was another story, but anyone who has ever owned a business and had to make a payroll knows how exciting it is to develop cash flow.

As much as I loved the potential opportunity, the reality of the delivery truck was always bittersweet to me.

We could now build a product. That was good news.

But we also had to pay for the shipment. And that was the sobering reality.

Sometimes (okay, truthfully all the time) that would stretch our cash flow until we could ship a product, send a bill, and collect some cash.

It was through watching that process a leadership principle came to me.

Delivery Truck Principle of Leadership

This principle points to a tension which exists in all leadership decisions. The return on investment for any opportunity doesn’t come until after the investment has been made. Sometimes that’s a long time following the initial investment.

We see that in many areas of our life. Some examples from society that come to mind:

  • New people come to a church and participate in programs, but they don’t immediately start contributing financially.
  • New houses are built in a community but it takes years to recover money invested in the roads, schools and emergency services to add them.
  • Hiring new employees may eliminate scheduling stress, but it may be months before they understand the culture and their role and are able to contribute.
  • Gaining new clients for a business takes upfront marketing money, but becoming a loyal customer may take months or years — if ever.
  • Developing a new program at your church may reach more people, but may pull resources from other programs.

You could add many more examples to this random list.

The delivery truck principle is simple: Every opportunity comes with cost.

The leader must discern when the cost exceeds the return, stretches the organization beyond its current capacity, or the opportunity’s costs simply aren’t received well within the organization.

Many leaders only see the potential in the opportunity, but fail to consider the costs associated. When a wonderful-sounding idea is thrown out in a creative meeting, I can get excited with everyone, but I’m also reminded that someone will have to develop a plan and do the work.

There have been so many opportunities or ideas I have left behind because I didn’t sense our team was willing or able to assume the costs associated. (There is also a cost associated with not taking an opportunity, but I spend far more of my time on this blog addressing those types of costs.)

Deciding to grow an organization is an admirable goal. I highly encourage it. Helping leaders grow and develop will continue to be a major focus of this blog.

My point in this post is simply to remind you of this:

The delivery truck principle reminds us that with every opportunity to grow, someone must count and eventually pay the costs associated with that growth.

The wise leader considers those costs along with the excitement of the opportunity.

Check out my new website design and my 5T Leadership offerings. One thing I love helping leaders do is managing the transitions in their leadership and life. Let me know if I can help you.

Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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