On Boiling Frogs and Drowning Rats

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Credit: Flickr / Mad Visions

Beau recently tweeted an observation I made to him, which people reacted to… Something to do with “plague animals” all “ending up dead”. And well… maybe it isn’t my best management metaphor.

It’s a metaphor for how we expand people’s comfort zones – the way we want to give people more responsibility gradually, as it feels possible.

I suspect most high achievers have a point where we go from energised to so overwhelmed by everything we grind to a halt. Keeping people (especially new managers) in the space where they are energised, and catching as they head towards overwhelm is part of the job. It’s great if people will realise it themselves and surface it, but if we haven’t built a relationship such that they feel they can bring it to us… what are they going to do?

This is the failure mode – people drown in the sea of things they have to do, with nowhere to turn.

Some people like to be thrown in the deep end to figure it out, but thinking about this metaphor I realise that people who thrive when thrown in like rats are people who have built up their own resiliency and support. They’re not really being thrown in, because they have a parachute to deploy and a support team on standby, ready to help.

Which also clarifies that part of the frog boiling is to help people develop resilience – and a support network. I tell everyone around me that when their job gets harder, they should make a friend. Coaching is also amazing for helping develop resilience (and self awareness) and I encourage everyone to take advantage of it (if they can). But as a manager, how you react to the inevitable failures of people on your team – do you react with kindness, understanding, and coaching?

Or do you do you take your broken trust out on the person, destroying the relationship between you in the process?

How do you react to your own failures? Do you display the same accountability and commitment to learn that you ask of them? Or do you embrace a double standard?

As I think more about this metaphor, I see that the art of change management is the art of frog boiling. As much as we might be tempted to throw grenades in there “for speed”, consistent temperature and stirring will yield the highest number of live, temperature resilient frogs.

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