The two men jumped off the tower and began flapping their gigantic wings.
They flew together for one hundred meters before the younger of the two began ascending higher.
The following dialogue ensued:
‘Son, be careful! You’re soaring too high!’
‘Don’t worry, Father. The higher I ascend, the stronger I feel!’
‘Your wings will disintegrate!’
‘I’ve got this, Father. We’re kings and the sky is our kingdom!’
Seconds later, loose feathers began drafting down from the sky. The young man kept flapping his wings, but soon realized that he was now flapping only his featherless arms, leading to his fall and death in the sea.
The Greek myth of Daedalus and his son Icarus is one of the post popular ones offering multiple interpretations and lessons. One particular lesson for leaders stands out that will be discussed below.
According to the legend, Daedalus was imprisoned with his son on the top of a tall tower on the island of Crete by the King of Crete Minoas due to Daedalus role in helping Minoas’ wife conceive the horrific mythological beast called Minotaur.
The depressed Daedalus felt helpless and doomed on the deserted tower’s top until one day he conceived the brilliant (and highly dangerous) idea of escaping the island by flying; he got the idea by observing flying patterns of birds around the tower.
With Daedalus’ zeal for life resumed, he collected falling feathers from flocks of birds near and on top of the tower. Using wax from the tower’s candles, he painstakingly constructed two sets of giant wings which they would use to escape by sea.
Daedalus gave his son a dire warning: Not to fly too near the sun as the heat would melt the wax and his wings would disintegrate leading to his death.
While both men took off and initially flew midway as per Daedalus’ instructions, Icarus became so entranced by flying that he ascended higher and higher leading to the disintegration of his wings and his much famed fall.
This part of the story is the one we are all aware of: that alluding to Icarus’ hubris of not complying to his father’s orders leading to his death.
In his intriguing book The Icarus Deception best-selling author Seth Godin writes that there is in fact another part of the story that has been conveniently carved out and left untold over the past decades.
There was a second warning by Daedalus to his son. Daedalus said:
“More importantly, do not fly too close to the sea either as the waves and mist will dampen the wings and make them too heavy to use.”
It is clear that censoring the myth led to the placing of compliance on a pedestal:
Don’t face your fears or try to break free from your comfort zone or else you will fall like Icarus did.
Remain compliant, a loyal soldier, a useful cog in the machine and you should be fine.
Is this the path to safety and fulfilment however?
First of all, there is no such thing as safety – whether of job or place on the market -especially today.
During the past ten financially turbulent years, many people I know who had pretty stable jobs were laid off without being given much of an explanation.
“We’re downsizing, sorry”.
Only to find a few months later that they hired cheaper employees to do pretty much the same thing they were doing.
Sure, they had steady jobs leading them to forming comfortable routines and stable lives. But as it turned out, there was no real safety for them. In redundancies the first employees to go are the most compliant and predictable ones – the ones who can fit into a job description and can be easily replaced by other cogs.
Or take the coronavirus pandemic which has proven that no industry is immune; just take a look at the industries brought to their knees: aviation, tourism, travelling, entertainment, Hollywood – you name it.
Finally the new hyper-connected economy combined with the rapid advent of technology has caused a constant shift in the type of services and skills required. Failure to innovate has ended the reign of giants such as Kodak (“killed” by digital photography), Blockbuster (“killed” by Netflix), Blackberry, Nokia, Thomas Cook and way to many more to mention here.
No one’s job, idea or business is safe; so this idea of staying into our comfort zone as a way to remain safe is blatantly flawed today.
It is those who choose not to hide behind the map of compliance but rather take a compass and dare to lead ahead who are the ones more likely to find fulfilment and remain future proof.
It is those who are willing to be vulnerable by trying out something new knowing that it may not work; those willing to expose themselves to criticism for breaking into new horizons.
Today’s leaders are those willing to face their fears and take calculated risks for the sake of leading people into the future.
They are prepared to embrace change knowing that forward motion requires bravery, idiosyncrasy and generosity.
What about you? Are you soaring too high in the sky or perhaps too close to the water?