Kerri Burchill, PhD
At first glance
We recently moved to San Antonio, Texas. Living this far south is eye-opening to this prairie girl from Western Canada. I am completely enamored with the plant life in Texas. I see metaphors for leadership all over the place. Take these cacti, for example. They border the patio of a local restaurant and as the sun is baking into my face, I daydream about the cacti’s resilience, its fortitude, the years it took to get the scars on it. I admire the blooms. I marvel to learn that you can eat the little thing under the blooms. Confused at why that little part under the bloom is called a pear.
On the walk to this local patio, I pass another cluster of dead cacti (below). As a now unofficial cacti aficionado, I clearly know what has happened here – the foolish owners overwatered the poor things. Imagine – needing to be left alone to suffer and grow, and the owners loved on the cacti too much, watered it too much, and simply drowned it to death. With an eye of judgement looking squarely at the owners, I wonder how the owners could have missed something so obvious.
You know how it goes – anytime you put on that know-it-all attitude, you quickly show how little you actually do know! Turns out that this decimated plant was killed by the 2020 winter storm that hit San Antonio. It was not neglect. It was not anyone’s fault.
It was only after weeks of seeing these cacti that I slowed down to talk about them with others on the patio.
It’s hard to slow down. Our brains are wired to see patterns, and quickly. My work is helping leaders slow down to go fast. In other words, see the cacti and figure out what factors influence their ability to thrive or die. My judgement at first glance story makes me think of a leader I was coaching recently. She was muddling through a complicated situation. As I challenged her to slow down, think about driving factors that can help her think through the situation, she turned to read off of her company’s core drivers. She completely buys into these drivers, yet was stuck on how to think through a challenge right in front of her.
When we slowed down, she quickly applied her challenge to the core drivers and found a framework that sorted through the complicated situation. In other words, she guided herself, got past the first glance of what she could do in response to the situation and created a sustainable plan.