Sept. 26, 2022

Why Strategic Planning is like Riding A Bike (Challenge #34)

Why Strategic Planning is like Riding A Bike (Challenge #34)

What does leading a strategic plan for a library and riding a bike have in common? A ton, actually!

Keeping your eyes forward, focusing on the task at hand, and trusting the process. These are all points to take into account when doing both strategic planning and riding a bike.

If you start to veer off track and look around instead of the plan you have carefully decided on, there will be scrapes and bruises.

So, tune in to today’s short episode to learn how you can use the same concepts of riding a bike on creating a strategic plan for your library or school.

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Eyes Forward! Or, why Strategic Planning is like learning to ride a bike

Leading your school or library’s strategic plan for the first time and learning to ride a bike are remarkably similar experiences. There’s a lot of apprehension, a fair bit of wobbling, and a few crashes. The good news is that, as a former individual contributor (and probably a current individual contributor to higher levels of the organization), you actually have the empathy needed to know what you need to do—or not do—in order to lead your team in creating a strategic plan that exciting, ambitious, and doable. It’s just that much like learning to ride a bike, it’s easy to forget what you need to do in the heat of the moment. Or at least it was for me.


Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge, where I empower educational and library leaders like you to build a better world! I’m Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild. My PhD in higher ed Leadership, my experience coaching, consulting, and presenting to library leaders all over the world, and a career working in academic libraries from the front desk to the Dean’s office taught me that leaders can transform their organizations without burning out. And now I’m sharing those same lessons with you.  

Over the next ten minutes or so, I'll share short stories and simple challenges designed to heal yourself and your school or library, so you can get back to making the impact you wish to see in your communities. By embarking on each week’s challenge on your own or in our private community, you and your team will begin growing humanely, managing effectively, and creating collaboratively, so you can build the more informed and educated world we all need.


I was about 8 years old in suburban Oklahoma in the 1980s (think Stranger Things, but with fewer monsters and more tornado warnings), and the training wheels were off my bike for good. However, I was still a bit shaky. I’d start with speed and confidence, but then I’d get nervous as things began to move faster, look down to make sure I wasn’t about to ride over a pebble or something, and then steer right into the back of the neighbor’s pickup. 

But this Saturday was different. Mom and I were going to take a practice ride to the other side of the neighborhood. I was gonna keep my eyes forward all the way! We got to the end of the street, to the next block, and even past the school! And I was doing it! It was one of the first times I actually enjoyed riding my bike. After 10 minutes or so we turned around to head back home. A few moments later I think I hit a patch of slightly loose asphalt and wobbled a tiny bit. Instinctively I clenched up and looked down to make sure that I wasn’t going to fall. I didn’t even see the pothole 15 feet in front of me until I was sailing over the handlebars toward a face first landing. I ended up with a black eye, bent glasses, my first stitches that I was old enough to remember, and the lesson I probably really needed in keeping my eyes forward. Yes, even when every instinct was screaming at me to look down so I wouldn’t crash.

Leading a team through a strategic plan is like riding a bike. Eyes forward.

What is your goal, to emerge with a plan that encapsulates the precise, magical vision in your head, or to emerge with a plan that is doable and embraced by your team? If it’s the latter, Eyes forward, so you can see the signals your team is giving you. 

After all, What makes YOU committed to an initiative decided by the administrators or board members above you? You know what it is, don’t clench the handlebars, eyes forward. You care about all those plans and initiatives to the exact degree you have a say in them, or at least that you understand the rationale. And if you got to take part in their development, or even help lead it? So much the better. So now that you’re in charge, return the favor other leaders gave you, relax, and let go a little. You’ll crash if you don’t, into a pit of micromanagement and burnout.

Eyes forward. That’s your job. Let your team AND your own leaders see what you see, the good stuff and the bad, the possibilities and potholes. Once they trust you to share what you know, they’ll open up with their perspective, and almost certainly have ideas that wouldn’t have even occurred to you. By trusting the process and showing that you trust the process, the door opens to deeper empathy among all of you, and a truly collaborative planning process. All you need to do is loosen up and keep your… well, you know.

So that’s your challenge. As we come out of the crazy start of the school year and shift into longer term thinking, are you still focusing two feet in front of your tire, or are your eyes forward?  And how will you keep them that way when things start getting crazy? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Thanks for listening and for taking action to become a kinder leader. If you found this week’s episode insightful, give the show a rating or review—or even better, share this episode with your fellow leaders!  Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.   

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