If – A Poem by Rudyard Kipling

If - A Poem by Rudyard Kipling
This entry is part 14 of 15 in the series Poetry and Management

One of the most famous poems in English-speaking literature, If has become a milestone in worldwide poetry, and a reference point for generations of readers. In it, Kipling has been able to summarize the reflections of an entire generation of people, addressing and questioning a way of living and acting that had symbolised the western culture for centuries.

This is the 15th contribution to my Poetry & Management collectionPoetry has always been one of my favourite forms of expressions, probably one of the eclectic sides of my multipotentialite trait. I feel it can be really useful as support in our management and leadership quests, as it is probably one of the greatest tools of sense-making and self-expression. Which is why I will be sharing more of these over time.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies, 
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much: 

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, 
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

Source: Rudyard Kipling, Rewards and Fairies, 1909.

A Short Comment

It’s difficult to add something to the thousands of words already written on this poem, up to the point that there are also versions written from a Project Manager perspective. Endless number of leadership commentator have been writing about the value of “If” as an inspirational piece.

If develops on a concept of a set of rules to live a grown-up life. Kipling keeps himself distant from the concept of success we use to often in the west: this poetry is mostly about integrity as the key for living a “full life”.

Self-development is the key measure of this work, whereby most of the suggestions can be read as good practices, rules for a running a decent life. The baseline is keeping your head and trusting yourself when others blame you or mistrust you. It’s not about rejecting criticism as a whole, but dispersing the negative energies of the blaming game. yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise, elements that add to the message of building a humble personality, far away from the self-promotion sirens that the world wants us to play. A key message also for authenticity.

One of the messages that appeal to me the most is the focus on will that the poem has when the author writes Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, / And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools. The amount of energy that is needed in building again something broken, with “worn-out tools” is the key to real perseverance.

Virtue is what plays the most important role in this poem, and the lines that refer to it are also a great remnant of great Leadership qualities. Because a Leader can walk with Kings, but should never loose the common touch. It can lead with both friends and foes, but above all, all men should count with you, but none too much.

The final touch is for me equally inspiring: filling time with worthy acts. This becomes the most important advice, because also one minute, if lost, does make our life a bit more miserable.

What do you think of this poem? Write a Comment below.

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Cover Image: Rudyard Kipling. Source: The Churchill Project

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  1. Avatar of sidjoynson6908

    I am sure that Rudyard would agree with the following change to make IT applicable to sons and daughters’
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run wild,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be an adult, my child!

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