There’s a story about Robert the Bruce (Robert I), a 14th-century king of Scotland. As he was struggling to protect his kingdom against the English, he found himself driven from his castle and forced to flee to keep from being taken prisoner. Feeling completely defeated and at a loss about what to do next, he took refuge in a cave.
Soon he spotted a small spider spinning its web. He watched as the spider would spin and then stop, spin and stop. Each time it didn’t make a move for a long while, he thought it had given up and failed in its task. But each time it eventually started again, moving with slow determination. And in time, after many stops and starts, it completed its web.
The king reflected on the three characteristics that made the spider successful—patience, awareness, and determination—and set out to apply them to his own situation.
To gain patience, he cleared and sat quietly until he found himself calming down and collecting his composure.
To cultivate awareness, he thought about the situation he was in and what it would take for him to survive in the short term and continue ruling his country. This awareness not only calmed him down but also allowed him to see things in a new way, removing some of the darkness he’d been under.
To embody determination, he thought about coming out of the cave ready to fight and do whatever it would take to regain his kingdom.
The king left the cave with patience, awareness and determination. The fight was long and difficult, with its own starts and stops, but within a few years Scotland prevailed and gained its independence.
That little spider, gone for centuries, changed the course of history. And we can still apply its lessons today.
When you find yourself in a challenging situation, ask yourself how you can attain patience. It is patience—with yourself, with your circumstances, and with your thinking—that will give you the wisdom to find new solutions to old problems.
When you feel everything is conspiring against you, ask yourself what awareness you need to cultivate. Awareness can help you understand that even when you cannot change a situation, you can always change yourself. Developing the ability to tolerate negative circumstances will make you rethink who you are as a leader.
When you want to give up, ask yourself how you can dig a little bit deeper to find your determination. Great leadership comes from embodying grit, using your inner strength to persist, not allowing any setbacks to stop you from moving toward your mission.
Leadership lessons are all around us. If a king can learn the most important lesson of his life from a spider, how much can we learn from the people, the things and the opportunities we experience every day if we stay open and pay attention?