leadership, change and small businessEvery now and then, a children’s story catches  my attention in an unexpected way. Recently I was reading Aesop’s The Sun and the Wind .

The Sun and the Wind were arguing about which one of them was stronger. They could not come to any agreement. When they saw traveller on the road, the Wind said, “this is how we can decide. The first one of us who can make that traveller remove his cloak is the strongest. The Sun answered the challenge, “That is an excellent idea! You may go first.” The Wind laughed and said, “You go behind that cloud while I show you how it’s done. Watch and learn.”

After the Sun went behind  a cloud, the Wind began to blow and blow. However, no matter how hard the Wind  blew, the traveller would not remove his cloak. The traveller just pulled his cloak closer around him and trudging down the road. Finally, the Wind gave up and stopped blowing.

The Sun came out from behind the cloud and began to shine. Eventually the traveller became so warm, he took his cloak off and carried it on his arm.

During times of change, are you the Wind or the Sun?

Trying too hard triggers resistance

A few years ago I was speaking with a nurse who works at a local community hospital. She told me about how things were changing at the hospital and how she found it unclear why the previous system wasn’t good enough. One of her complaints was that the management of the hospital hadn’t asked or listened to questions or concerns of the employees. The message she received was that the new policies and procedures were to be followed, period, end of story.

Whether her complaint that management was engaged in dialogue with employees was accurate or not is irrelevant. Her perception that her voice and experience didn’t count is relevant. She was feeling blown by the Wind and was responding by tightening her cloak by passively ignoring the new policies and procedures. (To her credit, no patients were at risk.)

Sometimes small business owners have these awesome ideas or recognition that a certain trend would benefit the organization. The way you manage your enthusiasm can create unecessary conflicts with business partners and/or staff. Occasionally, I’ll have a client who expresses frustration and impatience because “they don’t get it.” The expectation is that everyone will automatically see how right it is to seize the moment and apply the ideas. When questions are asked or concerns are raised, the temptation is to become like the Wind and just blow harder and harder.

A ready ear, consistent message and patience

Epictetus has a quote that carries great wisdom, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Guiding your organization often requires listening to what is said and not said. I suppose we could add two eyes to Epictetus’ quote since it’s easy to put blinders on when instituting a change project and not see how people are behaving.

Due to the very nature of its size, a small business can be agile and responsive but this largely depends on its leader. By using formal and informal conversations, it’s easier to correct misinformation, provide reassurance and get information about how the change project is progressing.

Your consistent message is simply your vision. Without being bullheaded about it, tell the story of what you believe your business can become. People will get excited by your dreams and want you to succeed. Sure, some of this is self-interest…and they also want to be part of something bigger; something that provides meaning and purpose.

Like the Sun, allowing the time for your staff and business partners to warm up to your idea sets the stage for better execution and persistence. Patience shows that you respect those who work with and for you. Encouraging dialogue is one example of how you can demonstrate patience. Another way is to make sure there is a written plan that contains deadlines and accountability. The act of writing the plan removes the potential for the business owner being cast as a dictatorial boss.

Gentle guidance often removes the need to fight

Being the Sun is the epitome of leadership. It includes being a visionary and guide. Sure, you can throw your weight around and tell everyone, “we’re doing it my way.” But what if you were like the Sun?

 How have you acted like the Sun in your business?