I’m not a fisherman, but my wife is. Having grown up with ponds on their land and a fishing pole in her hand, my wife enjoys fishing and loves to pass on that enjoyment to our son. Last year she and Silas nearly won the Father/Son Fishing tournament.
On a family vacation, we visited a park with rivers stocked with rainbow trout. My six-year-old was happy to teach me what he knew about fishing. Underneath an old bridge was a good-sized fish. Silas was convinced he should catch him.
After a few minutes it was very clear we were not the first people to try to catch this large trout. Silas was actually dropping the bait right on top of the fish’s head with no luck. (See: Silas on the Sybil War, Col. Sanders, and Peeing Crooked)
The fish wasn’t hungry. Finally he gave up and we moved through the park to a less populated area. Soon he and Jenny had caught a fish. Then another.
The fish were biting here much more frequently.
The same pole, same bait, and same fisherman got radically different results in two different places along the river.
As I watched Silas, I didn’t care much about fishing, but I do care a lot about life and leadership.
If we aren’t careful as leaders, we can spend way too much time trying to force-feed the fish. We have confidence in our message; we like our delivery; we are convinced we have what others need. And often we are right.
However, we can’t force the fish to eat. (See: Do the Work)
Try as you may, you can’t force:
- an employee to work hard
- a teenager to obey
- an addict to come clean
- a person to choose wisely
We can hope, try, provide opportunities, and do everything in our power to create a climate for good choices, but we can’t do it for them. And trying to force-feed them neither makes them more likely to eat nor is a good use of our time.
Stop force-feeding the fish.
Of course this requires wisdom. We never want to give up on people. We always want to provide the opportunity for others. We never want to withhold information or opportunity which can make a difference in the lives of people. (See: Never Give Up on People)
However, there is too much to be done for us to spend too much time beating a fish on the head with bait. There are too many other fish who would happily jump at the chance to eat for us to spend an abundance of time trying to convince others to have motivation.
We can give opportunity and information, but we cannot force desire or motivation. Only an individual can make the choice to be motivated. We can provide examples and encouragement, but we can’t make someone want something.
And when someone has proven their unwillingness to make a good choice, we cannot give up on them, but we can stop expending extraordinary energy on them.
We must realize, our time is a zero sum game. To give time, attention, or energy to one person is to choose not to give it to someone else. If our time and energy were unlimited then we wouldn’t have to worry about wasting time. We could keep force-feeding the fish. Yet because we are finite, because time is limited, and because our window of opportunity is small, we must choose wisely in how we spend our time. This includes people.
It’s never easy. We should never take it lightly. But we should be very deliberate in how we are spending our energy. (See: You Chose This–a Reflection on Time Management)
My son really wanted to catch the big fish underneath the bridge. But he could have spent his whole time fishing trying to convince that one fish to bite and he never would have caught anything. Instead, he moved to a new fishing hole and found great success.
Sometimes our problem is our bait. Sometimes it’s the pole. Sometimes we just have bad timing. But on occasion, the problem isn’t us; it’s the fish.
After looking at everything you control, if you keep failing to the get the results you want, stop force feeding the fish and find some fish that are hungry.