Monday, April 26, 2010

The Power in the Struggle

“One day a man noticed a cocoon on a tree branch.  It had a small opening and he saw that a butterfly was beginning to emerge.  The butterfly struggled mightily to release itself from the cocoon and then stopped, seemingly stuck and exhausted. In an act of kindness the man ran his fingernail down the length of the cocoon and opened it.  He expected to see the butterfly expand its wings and fly away.  Instead, the butterfly dropped to the ground, unable to fly.  The wings were emaciated and its body was bloated.  For the brief period it lived, it could never fly.”
Author Unknown

Many of you have either read or heard this parable before.  No matter how many times I read it I am still amazed by the power of its message.  While simple, it should remind us to avoid of a key trap of leadership. “White Knight Syndrome.” 

What is “White Knight Syndrome?”  This is an expression I like to use that gives us insight into a common behavior trap of leaders and managers.  The parable explains it perfectly.  As leaders we are driven to succeed and as such want our teams and followers to succeed as well.  We are drawn into the falsehood that making the struggle easier will help those we lead be successful.  With today’s pace we find ourselves falling into the trap of providing answers or doing the work ourselves rather than allowing our teams and those we lead to grow from the struggle of the task.  Most of us do this for the sake of expedience but lose the most powerful application, growth from the struggle.

We rush in to help like the “White Knight” on horseback, convinced that slaying the problem for our people will get us to our goal more quickly.  It may, but how many problems can we solve?  We are limited by our own capacity, and as a consequence, being the White Knight limits the team’s capacity as well. Instead of the team succeeding we are destined to mediocrity because a White Knight, no matter how good, can only slay so many problems. 

What’s a Knight to do?  Recognize the power in the struggle for the growth and development of those we lead.  This is an opportunity to practice what we learned in my last blog. Use the Power of Reflection to help you increase the capacity of your team.  Before you rush in to solve the problem, provide the answer or do the work: STOP, REFLECT and ASK yourself if you are helping them grow their own capacity.  Try asking these questions:

  • If I give them the answer, am I limiting their own problem solving skills?
  • If I do the work, am I disabling their capacity to learn and be motivated for the next time?
  • If I handle this today, what happens when I have ten of these tomorrow? Will I be slowing the team down?

Remember the old saying: “give a man a fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime.”  

Ok now that I have mentioned butterflies, cocoons and fish, I can officially call this blog “Green.”