Five Leadership Lessons From Tiny Wings

Tiny Wings is the heart-pounding story of a multicolored bird with disproportionately small (need I say, tiny) wings. Driven to flee it’s home, it must embark on a journey through uncharted and treacherous landscapes. It is an engrossing tale of one feathered creature’s attempt to overcome personal limitations and environmental obstacles.

Actually, Tiny Wings is just a simple game I play on my iPhone. Sorry… I couldn’t resist the dramatic introduction.

My friend, Brad Strawn, calls the game “zen-like.” I’d have to agree. Its controls are simple. Touch the screen (anywhere on the screen) to create a gravitational pull that helps this little bird move quickly over the hills and through the valleys it encounters. The point is, this bird can’t really fly (because it has tiny wings). It is up to you to press and release at the right time, giving the bird momentum as it slides across each island it encounters.

The game is certainly addicting. I even dedicated a previous post to it about a year ago – Tiny Wings: My New Favorite iPhone Game.

As with most of my experiences, I’ve taken the time to look at Tiny Wings through a leadership lens. There are some great lessons we can pull from this simple game.

1. Focus on today.

“Touch for sunrise.” That’s the message you see on the screen when you start each game. Each game lasts for one day. You play from sunrise to sundown (on the game, not in real time…that would go beyond addiction). The goal of the game is to see how far you can get in ONE day. I like that. There’s even a little sun gauge to tell you where the sun is in the sky. You can tell when night is approaching because the screen starts to get darker.

Today is the only time each of us has. We have right now. Leaders know that vision, exciting and compelling vision, is accomplished one day at a time. They know that each day is a chance to move “here” a little closer to “there.” John Maxwell says it this way, “Leaders aren’t developed in a day. They’re developed daily.” Each day is an opportunity to do the things that need to be done that day. We call this discipline. I’ve even created a TO-DAY list to make sure I’m accomplishing what’s most important each and every day.

2. Acknowledge your weaknesses.

This bird is known for it’s most glaring flaw – it has tiny wings. Imagine if people called you by your worst characteristic. “This is Tim – always late” or “Meet Tim – has anger issues.” Wouldn’t be very flattering would it?

The point is, everyone you work with probably has some idea of what you’re not good at. They know your weaknesses. But they’re more interested to know if YOU know your weaknesses. Every leader has weaknesses…and strengths. The bird with tiny wings knows it can’t fly, but that doesn’t keep it from soaring. It just needs your help to get it going. Once you acknowledge your weak areas, you must find others who can come alongside and complement those areas with their strengths. You get others involved. You do this because if you tried to do everything by yourself, then you are no longer leading anyone else.

3. Create momentum by overcoming obstacles.

It takes a little practice to get the hang of Tiny Wings. You have to help the bird enter the valleys on the down slope so it can have momentum and soar off the up slope. Enter the valley at the wrong angle or wrong spot and the bird ends up walking up the hill. This eats up more of your daylight. But the more valleys you maneuver the bird through correctly, the higher the bird soars and the more points you get.

Obstacles can slow down any organization. It’s always interesting to me when leaders begin to complain or act surprised when obstacles show up. If anything, problems are a leader’s job security. Plus, if a leader can guide a group of people effectively through an obstacle, it creates momentum within group or organization. Overcoming obstacles develops character, increases experience, and makes a group of people stronger. Obstacles are also a sign that you’re probably doing something significant.

One more note about obstacles. The bird doesn’t seem to view it’s physical limitation as an obstacle. It has found a way to overcome that with the help of others.

4.Give immediate feedback.

This little bird talks to you throughout the entire game. If you land the bird correctly, he (she?) lets out a positive-sounding chirp. But if the bird happens to land in an awkward spot, she (he?) lets out a sort of “uh-oh” chirp. You can also tell how well you’re doing by how fast the bird is moving. If the bird soars up into the clouds, you’re doing well. If the bird is walking up the hill, not so well.

The point is that you know how you’re doing at every point in the game. You receive instant feedback for what works and what doesn’t. Do you realize what this does? It helps you get better at the game. It leads to improvement.

As a leader, I’ve never been a fan of yearly assessments or evaluations because the feedback doesn’t seem very timely. Most people want to know right away how they’re doing. They don’t want to wait for an evaluation six months from now to find out they could have been improving during that time. Effective feedback is timely. Imagine placing a child on restriction or grounding him or her for something that happened four months ago. Not very beneficial. In fact, it sounds kind of cruel.

5. Celebrate the small victories.

One of the highlights for me and what I consider to be a signature moment of the game is when the bird flings itself off of one island and soars to the next. At that point, the bird lets out an ecstatic and elongated, “Yaahhhhoooooo!” Love it…every time. The bird celebrates and you get a little break from playing for a moment.

Celebrations, both big and small, can add so much to the dynamic of a team. It creates a greater sense of unity and teamwork. It brings closure to a task or event and actually gives the group some momentum for future work. Celebrations also give people a breather. Celebrating reduces stress and emphasizes a fun atmosphere. It shows people they’re valued and their contribution is significant and appreciated.

There are probably a few more leadership lessons I can draw from Tiny Wings (like, if you play Tiny Wings all day it will kill your productivity). If you’ve played the game before, what lessons would you add?

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