Leaders feed wolves, but differently than you might think. This proverb was first shared with me by the late Wayne Dyer, though his books. Certainly told many times in many ways, it goes something like this: An old Cherokee was telling his grandson,” There is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. One is good.” The boy thought about it then asked “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”, to which the old man replied “The one you feed.” Having just returned from New Mexico and having spoken these words with a recent coaching client, I believe there might be more to this story and more that we, as leaders, need to heed, in this lesson.
There are More Than Two
To say that there are simply two wolves, one which is good and one which is evil, may have worked for a young lad eager to learn from his grandfather. However, in most cases, there are more than just two. There’s a whole pack of the evil ones and a few strong good ones in most cases, in fact. The key is to determine what your wolves represent at any given time. Is one fearful and one feeling stuck? Those could both be considered evil, but they will still appear to duke it out and feeding either will keep you frozen in your tracks. Maybe you need to keep walking down the path with both of those to find the next one, which could be hope. Is one wolf anger, one resentment, and one reserved optimism? Feeding only one here without being aware of the presence of the third could set you up for a sneak attack. Take a closer look. Listen carefully. What wolves lurk in the woods of your internal dialogue? Which one sits back and waits until you think you’ve got this and then jumps into your forward path as if to say “surprise!” Leaders, who are self-aware and able to lead themselves, heed the messages of any and all wolves that may be present. Now let’s talk about care and feeding.
Both Have Value
Often in a coaching conversation, words spring forth in the moment that have not been combined in that manner before. That is what happened in my last call with one particular client, who will know who he or she is when he or she reads this, and it served to inspire this post. Being a competitive athlete and former farmer, the client took this analogy of feeding wolves a step further and said “I need to go hunting!”, meaning one wolf needed to be killed. My response was “Whoa, both have value. Don’t kill either one. Simply stop stuffing the one that doesn’t serve you. Feed it table scraps instead of a daily dose of Thanksgiving dinner.” The visual had clarity and is a message all leaders need to hear. There is value in having a wolf called fear. It keeps the leader from making stupid moves or jumping head long into a project or decision without giving it appropriate thought. Fear keeps us from walking into oncoming traffic, keeps us from saying what we might like to say and keeps us from doing things despite warnings or what others say. Keep that wolf alive, just don’t feed it until its fat. The wolf of anger is there for a reason. Listen for what it’s trying to show you. The annoyed wolf, the frustrated wolf, the giving up wolf, the I’m stuck wolf, and the what do I want to be when I grow up wolf, all have value and leaders who listen could glean a valuable lesson.
What you Feed Leads
But, we both know listening can lead to feeding. A baby cries and we listen, then attempt to feed for lack of knowing what else to do. A wolf in your head begs for attention, and you might be tempted to feed it, literally or figuratively unless of course, you really pay attention to what it said and what that message meant. Let’s not overthink this and simply say that what you feed tends to lead. If you feed your angry side and resent all of the team members you lead, then soon you’ll be known as the leader with a temper, hard to get along with and difficult. If you feed the confident wolf too much, one might appear cocky or arrogant. Whatever feeling, or wolf, you feed, is the persona and demeanor and behavior with which you will lead, yourself and others.
Not unlike the saying “what you focus on, follows you around”, feeding wolves is delicate business. Knowing which one to feed, how much, how often and when is likely what will determine how you lead, how you are perceived as a leader and how many members of the team you lead, actually follow.