Turtles are among the most diverse creatures on the planet. How many species of animals can you name that live in the ocean, land, lakes, and swamps? Not very many for sure. They are associated with being wise, committed, although a bit introverted. Here are some leadership lessons we can learn from these creatures.
They are determined.
Growing up in Louisiana, I lived in the country where we had box turtles that came through every year to lay eggs. You could pick them up and turn them around in the opposite direction and they would pull themselves in their shell, wait it out, turn back around and head in the original direction they were going. Sea turtles make the trek every few years to lay eggs at the same beaches, no doubt navigating a determined journey to get there in the process.
When life picks you up and turns you around, how do you react? Do you pick yourself up and keep moving or let the person/circumstance keep you down? The tortoise famously beat the hare in the children’s story because of its slow and steady commitment to moving forward while avoiding distraction. Stay determined to hit your goal or reach your journey. Don’t let discouragement set in when you don’t see immediate results or something doesn’t go as planned.
They need to struggle to survive.
Many turtles must struggle, some as soon as they are born, in order to survive. You’ve likely seen videos or pictures of volunteers helping on the shore as sea turtles hatch and make their crawling journey to the ocean. Why don’t the volunteers pick them up and place them in the ocean to help them out? The turtles are too weak to survive the ocean current when they are born. They gain their strength to swim during the struggle to make it down the beach.
It’s a lesson that I believe we need to be reminded of as we go through our own personal and professional struggles. Those struggles make you a stronger, wiser and more resilient individual for the future. Remember that as a coach, teacher, parent, and/or leader that your job isn’t to make the struggle or pain go away, you are there to help equip the person to rise up from the struggle. Otherwise, the person never gets strong enough to truly move forward.
They look forward because they have no choice.
Because of the turtle’s unique body structure, they have a fairly limited range of view and little to no hearing. They have to look forward because they really don’t have any other choice.
Wouldn’t that be nice at times? When we struggle, face defeat, and when things don’t go our way, we have a tendency to look back and focus on all the things that went wrong. “If only I had done ______ differently.” Follow the turtle’s lead and keep yourself forward-focused. Learn from your past to change your future, instead of letting it distract you from making progress towards your goals.
If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will gain. -Neil Gaiman
We love our set routines and the relative safety that our jobs provide. I know I do. The best leaders don’t settle for status quo and are great risk takers for their organizations. It’s not done haphazardly without intent. It’s planned, weighed and executed. Do you consider yourself a risk taker? Here are some areas to consider when taking risks.
It’s important to be well informed before you make a decision. Think through all the avenues possible on what the outcome would be. You don’t have to be totally sure about an outcome. Do you know how much certainty we needed to know about something in the military before making a decision? 60%. You would think it would be a lot higher but sometimes you just can’t get 100% confidence that what you want to do will work. (And that would likely make it not a risk) Realistically evaluate how much risk is involved and what the potential consequences could be.
It’s also important to partner with others during the process. If it’s a big choice, involve your upline leader and include experts inside and outside your business or industry. If it’s a smaller choice, involve your leadership team and perhaps an outside perspective.
Don’t be afraid to fail.
Starting out, I had a love/hate relationship with taking risks. I loved the idea of thinking up new ideas and strategies, but I absolutely hated failure. Hated it! The result was that I would come up with a lot of new ideas and then not really do anything about them. Don’t make my mistake: Accept failure as a part of the process of taking a risk. Once you do, you are truly freed to try new things. I eventually got over failing and then became a pro at it!
Here are some things I tried and failed at translating to widespread success:
Replicating a New Years at noon event in retail stores for kids.
Recycling gift cards and reselling them as guitar picks.
The first iteration of my time management course.
Multiple bands after my first successful one.
Utilizing social groups as a marketing avenue beyond the local level.
I’m sure if I really thought about it I could easily list 15-20 more. I heard a great statement from a Disney Imagineer once on ideas and failures. “A good idea never dies.” He gave examples of how some ideas took 30 years to come to life. Could some of those failed ideas above come back at some point? Maybe so (and some already have). The great thing is the knowledge of how many great things have come out of taking some risks.
Sometimes the “failure” is just a stepping stone.
Look no further than the Passing the Baton podcast and this newsletter as your example. Listen to the first PTB episode and listen to the newest. Although the content is relevant, there is a significant difference between then and now. The same goes for the newsletter. If you’ve been with me for the nearly 4 years that these have been going, you’ll find the first year unrecognizable from today. Don’t let perfection keep you from starting a new thing or trying something different.
There are some risks that are out there that could harm your company and/or personal progress. If you take the right partner, follow your integrity, your policies, and your mission, then there should be very little that you would do that could not be fixed later.
So go ahead and step out there. Your risk may be the next big world-changing idea.
I have lived in the southern half of the U.S. my whole life. Squirrels are everywhere! They are annoying to some, funny others, and cute to even more people. These little rodents can actually teach us a thing or two about our own leadership.
Squirrels are great preppers
If nothing else, a squirrel is a very good planner and prepper. They will often build up multiple stocks of food in different locations in anticipation of raids and other losses. They will also bury nuts in open areas that other animals can see to throw them off from their real cache of food. They have plans and contingency plans just in case. So too, is it good for a leader to be a very good planner and prepper. They don’t let the what ifs fully drive their leadership, but they are aware of potential risks and prepare accordingly for worst-case scenarios and They train their team well to stay nimble so if one plan falls through, then they can still operate and be successful. A great humanly example of this is with financial planners. Any planner that is worth anything will spread out investments so that if something takes a hit, the whole portfolio isn’t destroyed. Plan and prepare to make it through your personal and professional winters.
Squirrels don’t give up
Type in funny squirrel in a Google video search and you’ll get over 400k hits back of footage from the rodents doing the craziest things to get what they want and need. They simply will not give up! You’ve probably seen in your neighborhood or in videos/pictures the elaborate ways homeowners will go to protect their birdfeeders from squirrels. They see an obstacle and they will just keep going at it no matter what. I think sometimes we give up too early on ideas and endeavors that we have. We don’t see immediate success and we write it off as a failure. Keep at those challenges. The squirrel never fails in its quest to get in the birdfeeder. It continues to learn and gain experience until it finds the right combination. Never look at a miss as a failure; consider it a part of the journey to success.
Squirrels are very adaptive
When we first moved to our current home, we had many squirrels and chipmunks that would cut through our backyard to get from one place to another. We introduced a small dog into their environment. It didn’t take long for them to adapt and turn our fence line into a squirrel superhighway. They also gain a significant amount of weight in the winter and as we’ve seen above, learn obstacles and how to outsmart them. In our world, we’ve seen many business and large organizations fail and go out of business because they failed to adapt to a new environment. Don’t fall into that same trap. Remain nimble and continue to push for innovation in yourself and with your team.
Remember the tenacity of the squirrel next time you are future planning or are looking at an obstacle. If the rodent can figure out a way, so can you.
One of the most undervalued types of communications is a person’s storytelling skills. I remember one year when I put storytelling skills in the areas for improvement section of my annual review. It was largely brushed off and likely taken in the context that I was not focusing on the right areas. The truth of the matter is that we all need to be better storytellers. When I travel around the country and teach leaders or consult with organizations, I often tell the same stories over and over again if it’s on the same subject matter. If you are in sales you do the same thing daily with potential clients. If you are a parent, you use stories to teach your children. We also use stories to build and grow relationships both personally and professionally.
There are three types of stories that everyone should have in their toolbox.
This is your outsider to insider story and your goal is to connect on an emotional level. Think David and Goliath or Rocky. Both great stories of overcoming the odds to win. For me, it’s starting out at an organization as a seasonal hire, after not even getting an interview the first time, to becoming a leader in that company and being responsible for over of 500 people. It doesn’t have to be extreme. Your story may be getting laid off from a job and how you bounced back, not getting into the school you wanted, not getting the dream job you applied for etc. Basically, what obstacle and personal setback have you overcome to get a win. A few months ago, I told a story of how the GA marathon destroyed me, but I was able to bounce back and do really well at the Boston Marathon weekend a month later. Large or small, have a few of these type of stories in your pocket.
This story shows your expertise in your specific field, also known as your street cred story. What gives you your credibility? Again this can be both large and small scale, depending on your experience. I have a few including turning around retention rates, stories of other leaders that have thrived under the right kind of leadership and financial gains by focusing on the right training delivery method. Yours may be your academic success, work success, or success as a parent. Another way to think about it is from the perspective of your friends/family/co-workers. They would say you are awesome at _________ because _________ . There’s one of your stories right there.
This is your story of what you do. What problem solve for other people? “I help people __________”, “I help my organization _________”. Share a problem that you currently working on for a customer, your boss, or your business. These are typically easier stories to identify and showcase your drive to improve others and work with a team. It helps people see how you can help them with their own problems and situations. People enjoy hearing how their pain points can be solved and they get that from hearing how you did it with others.
Keep in mind to tailor your stories around what people need to hear. The stories I share when speaking to business students are going to be different from the ones I share with a CEO going through a culture change initiative. In her situation, she doesn’t care that I got passed over for a seasonal job, but a college student will project themselves into the story and see how they can build future career growth.
Tips to start writing your story
Free write: Spend time weekly writing out your thoughts or experience that happened to you in the last week. We all forget our interactions and they can often be a great start to an engaging story.
Voice to text apps or voice recorders: Hate writing? Use voice recording apps, your phone, or a recorder to record your thoughts.
Be authentic: People see through fake stories or ones that are overexaggerated and insincere. People want to hear about the real you.
Try it on friends and colleagues: Use those close to you to give you honest feedback on how your story is. They can help you edit and polish your story to make it more impactful.
Don’t improv your story: I know that you’ve heard yourself tell the story a hundred times, but it’s likely a first for your audience. There is a reason why people enjoy a greatest hits album and far fewer buy the remix album. People want to hear your best!
Have an impact that they remember: If people can’t summarize and tell your story to others then it probably needs to be reworked.
Develop a skill people don’t have and then give it to them: Give them something that they can’t readily get elsewhere. That may be a service, a unique combination in skill set or life experience.
*Ryan Williams is an expert in storytelling and the writer of the Influencer Economy. He is the champion of the three types of stories everyone should have and can be found at The Influencer Economy