Be the Spark

fire-549103_640As far back as 577 AD, primitive matches were used to start fires in China. In 1805, Jean Chancel developed the first self-igniting match. His required dipping the match head into sulfuric acid though, and never really caught on. Like so many great ideas, the common friction match was discovered by accident. English chemist John Walker was testing different chemical mixtures, dropped a match on his hearth, and was delighted when it lit upon being struck.

Today, matches generally come in two varieties. The most common is the safety match. In order to light it, the match head must be rubbed against a specially coated striking surface. The friction combines the chemicals from the two elements and ignites the match. They’re called safety matches because you must have a particular set of circumstances in place for them to work. You need the match and a specific companion surface upon which to rub it.

Less common is the strike-anywhere match. Here, all the chemicals necessary for combustion are located within the match itself. All you have to do is apply friction. Just rub the match against a dry, abrasive surface and it will light. This resource is potentially more dangerous. It’s also, in my opinion, much more valuable. That’s why I also prefer strike-anywhere leaders.

I know, here I go again – using a random factoid to illustrate important concepts about leadership, sales, and customer service. But stay with me here. Let me contrast the two types and just see if you don’t make the connection.

Safety Leaders

Strike-Anywhere Leaders

  • Contain some of the elements necessary to succeed, wait for the perfect circumstances to act
  • Show up ready to work and looking for a chance to make an impact
  • Can only operate within a particular set of conditions
  • Self-starting – operate regardless of the environment they find themselves in
  • Fail to spark when rubbed the wrong way
  • Burst into action given the chance
  • View rough patches as problems to be avoided
  • Rise to any challenge presented
  • Have little impact on most they encounter
  • Light a fire in those they come in contact with
  • Only useful in specific situations
  • Add value in any situation

The purpose of a match is to create a spark. In and of themselves, they provide little light and no heat. The value of a match lies in its ability to create something bigger. It’s a catalyst for change; change that continues long after the match itself is removed from the equation.

That’s why I like the strike-anywhere matches. I know I can count on them to light when needed. They don’t sit around waiting for the stars to align perfectly in order to be of use.

That’s also why I try to be a strike-anywhere leader. Who knows when, or if, the perfect set of circumstances will come into play? The people around me need someone who is ready to go at any time and any circumstance. My customers and coworkers need to know they can depend on me to fulfill my purpose in any setting.

What about you? What kind of match are you willing to be?