Today's LEADERSHIP SUCCESS STRATEGY.
A Dose of Reality About Excellence For
People In Charge, And Those Who Aspire To Be.
(Feel free to forward this to co-workers, friends and family.) Issue 0317
From Rick Houcek
There's a time-honored story with a shocking ending that provides an intense learning lesson for leaders. It zeroes in on a situation we face very day.
It's about a man and an emperor moth. (Author unknown.)
Here's the story in abbreviated form...
A man finds the bottle-shaped cocoon of an emperor moth. Anxious to watch it emerge, he takes the cocoon home. Months pass before he notices movement.
Amazed at this miracle of nature, he watches for hours as the moth struggles to free itself and squeeze through the tiny opening at the mouth of the cocoon.
It seemed stuck. Concerned that nature had dealt this moth a cruel blow, and wanting to provide help and relief, the man used scissors to cut the cocoon, widen the opening, and liberate the moth.
It then emerged easily. Freedom at last. The body was small and swollen. The wings shriveled.
The man expected the wings to flap open any minute and the moth to fly away.
But it didn't. Not then. Not ever.
In fact, the moth spent the rest of its life squirming and wiggling on the ground, never able to fly.
End of story.
If you're thinking this was a crippled moth, no, it wasn't. It had no defects. No deformities. No flaws, no weaknesses, no inabilities.
It was most normal.
What the man didn't know is that nature, in its infinite wisdom, created that struggle on purpose. The too-small opening was part of an intended plan. It isn't impossible to squeeze through, just extremely difficult. Moths since time began have successfully fought and won that fight.
The struggle, the tugging, the fight, forces fluid from the moth's body into its wings, to strengthen them, so they are ready for flight once it achieves freedom from the cocoon.
If there is no exertion, no strain, no toil ... it means no fluid is released. No fluid means no strength. No strength means no freedom. And no flight.
By depriving the moth of the struggle, the man robbed it of health.
LESSONS & ACTIONS FOR YOU.
Is there an alarm bell going off in your head?
If so, you're not alone.
Because every one of us -- every business owner, president, manager, supervisor, coach, parent, teacher -- every leader of every kind -- has on more than one occasion, gone too far in supporting someone who was burdened.
"Too far" meaning, you cut the cocoon when what they really needed was the struggle.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that offering a helping hand to someone in need is not a noble gesture, not an act of genuine kindness, or not something a responsible leader should do.
I'm merely suggesting that you must pick your moments.
And herein lies one of the leader's most frustrating dilemmas...
When to show tough love? And when to show compassion?
Bad news, amigo...
There is no silver bullet on this one. No pat answer. It shouldn't always be one, or always be the other. The best answer is, you must judge each occurrence on its own merits, and make your decision from there.
But it doesn't have to be difficult or fuzzy. Sometimes it's gray, yes, but other times it's clearly black or white. I submit that you and I and every leader should establish some principals to guide us.
I'm willing to share a few of my primary criteria. Use these if they resonate with you, or better yet, devise your own. Just don't get caught off-guard and make a decision you live to regret:
I show tough love when I believe the other person...
- is being irresponsible in his decision or action.
- has entitlement mentality (something for nothing or "you owe me").
- is perfectly capable of doing for himself without my doing it for him.
- is whining and moaning or trying to escape hard work or a difficult choice .
- is being unaccountable for his/her actions.
- is unjustifiably blaming another person for his own doing.
- is refusing or unwilling to try (assuming the initial request is within reason and minimal jeopardy).
I show compassion when I believe the other person...
- is giving honest and sincere effort, not faking it and not "phoning it in".
- accepts personal responsibility for his/her own decisions and actions, not passing the buck.
- has an "If I don't earn it, I don't want it" mentality.
- doesn't make excuses.
- is willing to learn, try and fail.
Here's a fun game to play. Watch a TV show or movie in which leadership is an undertone - maybe it's military or business or sports, or some other subject where there are visible leaders and followers and clear "teaching moments" about leadership.
Then pay close attention to specific times when a leader shows tough love. Versus when he or she shows compassion. I'm not suggesting what you see on the silver screen is always right -- remember it's Hollywood, it's scripted, and it's make-believe -- but at least it gives you something to think about. Something to try on for size, to see how it feels to you, how the words resonated, and how the other person reacted.
The other night I watched "An Officer And A Gentleman" for the umpteenth time. A very inspiring story. The entire movie focuses on the interplay between two central characters: Lou Gossett's gritty-tough drill sergeant and Richard Gere's renegade, smart-aleck recruit.
If you've served in the military -- or watched any basic training movie -- you know a drill sergeant ain't snuggling up to be your best friend. Far from it. It's his job to create in each recruit a mental, emotional and physical toughness that can -- if called upon -- survive in battle and win a war.
Not an easy task. (And I'm deeply respectful and grateful for what they do. Most leaders, thankfully, will NEVER have to train their followers for such dangerous, life-risking activities.)
It was noteworthy to spot the times -- there weren't many -- in which Gossett's character cut Gere some slack. That's the "compassion" I speak of. I found each one hard to argue with. I think Gossett's character skillfully chose each.
But there's a nagging catch. He didn't know when those opportunities would come. Like most, they happen in an instant. In the blink of an eye.
And he -- like you in your daily leader role -- had to first, recognize the moment, and second, make a snap decision.
Hey, nobody said it would be easy. In fact, I've repeatedly said, being a high-integrity leader is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. It must be -- look how many people fail miserably at it.
It's fair to point out that when you show tough love, you're likely to get anger or disagreement in response. This will be a test of your resolve. Do you hold fast or cave in?
Find your own zone. Identify the criteria that resonate for you. Write them down. Memorize them.
I've created mine. The list above defines them all. Sure has made it easy for me to decide when the chips are down.
When will you get crackin' on yours?
Helping Ambitious Forward-Thinkers Soar To Success...
Rick Houcek, President
Soar With Eagles, Inc.