Frogs on the Boil: 3 Reasons to Take Your Leadership Temperature


Unhelpful behaviour

During the last week I have heard several instances of people being subjected to unacceptable behaviour at work and not feeling empowered to oppose it. Here are three of the stories I heard:

  • A Director trying to recommend a course of action during a board meeting and subjected to prolonged angry contempt from a male colleague who disagreed… she made an attempt to point out the futility of this approach and its negative impact of achieving a solution, but gave up on the basis that standing her ground might trigger further unproductive rants.
  • A Global Head of Talent & Development’s proposal for the introduction of team coaching which was turned down and then closely followed by the board accepting the same proposal presented by her male colleague… she felt aggrieved but decided that it didn’t matter who got the credit as long as the outcome was achieved.
  • An experienced Oil and Gas Leader, constantly undermined by her colleague’s constant lack of follow through and finding herself spending many hours compensating for his errors… her boss had asked her to find ways to build close collaboration with this colleague and therefore she felt she needed to just ‘get on with it’ and put it into perspective.


Boiling frogs

And the connection to boiling frogs? The idea is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will hop out straightaway. If, however, the frog is placed into cold water which is then brought to the boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be literally be cooked to death. Whether or not this is scientifically proven (there is now some doubt), the metaphor is powerful. Each of the above examples demonstrate what can happen to our levels of tolerance over time. We get so used to behaviours which we know should not be tolerated, but which somehow become the norm and are then excused.

Another pair of eyes

Sometimes it takes an external pair of eyes to notice what we are not seeing and enable us to take off our dark glasses and see what is right in front of our noses. To inspire us to assertively and authentically challenge the ranters and point out that disrespect does not generate commercially viable solutions. To embolden us to raise awareness of unconscious bias and what happens when everyone’s opinions, irrespective of gender, are considered on their merit.  To be part of creating a culture where constructive feedback is encouraged rather than avoided for fear of reproach.

Someone else noticing the lifeless and uncomplaining frog in the water can be a wake-up call and reignite our understanding of what is, and what is not acceptable. Allowing the frog to leap to freedom can remind us that showing strong leadership, even if it feels uncomfortable, is better for everybody in the team and the organisation and ultimately of course for our customers too.

Questions to take you further

  • What are you not noticing which you need to pay attention to?
  • What do you know you are tolerating but lacking the energy to tackle?
  • What frogs do you need to bring back to life?

Find out more about the work Clare McNamara does with leaders and their teams on influence and authenticity.

© Move Ahead Global 2016


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