Caterpillars or butterflies

by Tony Hawk ([email protected]) 469 views 

I’d rather be surrounded by a room full of butterflies than a box full of caterpillars.

The beauty of thousands of butterflies hanging from trees like leaves is a sight to behold. And to think, all this beauty comes from a rather unusual worm-like creature. Not unlike caterpillars, people too have the potential to become beautiful butterflies.

One of the greatest privileges of leadership is helping others achieve their potential. Here are a few things to consider as you turn your team into butterflies.

Look for the butterfly in everyone you lead, then find ways to release them. Nearly every successful person I know can tell stories of someone encouraging them to rise to challenges beyond what they believed they were capable of. That encouragement created focus, determination and motivation to give their best and ultimately achieve more than they dreamed possible.

Look for the butterfly even when it’s not so evident. Some people come to us so beaten and broken that they’ve lost their drive. Their wings may not have completely withered, but you can tell that they are not far from the edge. If you choose, you may be able to re-energize them, and in doing so, may see them become one of your best employees ever.

Jim was brilliant in his chosen field. He was the subject matter expert and a problem solver. When a senior position opened, he was enraged that he was not selected for it. He had the credentials, the education, the required expertise and experience. He looked right on paper. However, he had not demonstrated the kind of leadership his organization needed for the position. After his exhibited outrage, it would have been easy to fire him, but I knew he had great potential there if we could nurture it to the surface.

His new boss, one of his former employees, not only met the technical requirements, he had the leadership skills to lead across the organization and to unleash the potential we saw in Jim. Jim is now happier than he has ever been, doing what he is best at. The organization continues to benefit from his expertise, and he is also learning some invaluable lessons in servant leadership.

Remember, caterpillars want to be butterflies. They have an internal drive to flourish. They don’t have to be told what to do. They just require an environment conducive to becoming a butterfly.

High potential people similarly rise to challenges, learn everything they can about the business, are driven toward excellence and are continually looking for ways to make things better. They are often filled with ideas — sometimes more ideas than the organization can embrace, sometimes more than you can afford and sometimes ideas your organization is not yet ready for.

As their leader, you have the opportunity to create an environment where they can flourish by embracing as many of their ideas as feasible and ensuring they know you believe in them. When their beliefs are problematic, help them explore them further, considering your thoughts and the organization’s constraints. When obstacles are entrenched in your organization’s culture, teach them to lead through those obstacles, to get traction leads to more significant change.

Recognize and reward them. While these types of people are not driven by money and status, a good leader knows these are important to them and ensures they are treated fairly. And though you will never keep them all on your team, there is great satisfaction in knowing these caterpillars became butterflies on your watch.

That’s the thing about butterflies. They do love to fly, and it is a beautiful sight to behold.

Tony Hawk is CEO of Resources for Leading, an executive coaching and consulting group serving companies in NWA and around the country. The opinions expressed are those of the author.