My colleague, Annette Simmons, shared an insightful story: A new supervisor, who had been promoted for her track record in delivering outstanding results, was getting resistance from her team for being over-controlling and harsh in her feedback. Her manager was receiving feedback from disgruntled team members — mutiny was brewing. In their next 1:1 update, he shared with her some wisdom he’d learned from a Haitian cab driver in Washington, DC who quoted his grandfather, “He who beats his horse will soon be walking.”
Annette’s story from her book, The Story Factor, has stuck with me. Short but poignant, this story delivers many important insights. While coaching and redirecting a budding leader, the boss also conveys his leadership values: he was humble enough to accept advice from a cab driver and he chose not to interfere with her drama. But he sent a clear signal that she needed to moderate her approach in order to be a successful leader. He role modeled the change she needed to make.
In business settings, there are many applications for this story. As leaders, we can use it to impart wisdom to budding leaders who commonly fall into the micro-managing trap, but we can also use it in mentoring/coaching each other. This story is highly relevant to cross-functional leadership roles with high accountability, but little authority. More importantly, this story can be a daily reminder for every leader that how we engage the support of those around us can make or break our success.
This story can stretch beyond the corporate world of leadership. In my past life as a weight loss counselor, I encountered many clients who complained about the people in their life for not supporting their lifestyle change efforts. Anyone working in this space has experienced it. But we need to drill to a deeper level and help them explore if their interpersonal dynamics impede or enhance their requests for support. By seeking to understand how they engage and motivate their own support team, we might help them them succeed.
If you are feeling resistance from the people you need to support you, stop and ask: “Will I soon be walking?”
Finally, this story also teaches us to look for story gems like this in our everyday life. Talking to a cab driver, an encounter with someone while standing in line, words spoken from a child . . . Look for and listen to the stories around you.