At the end of last year I started working with the leadership team designate of one of my long-established clients in the south of England. This team of people have been identified, by their HR department, as having the potential to play a larger and more significant role in the company’s future growth.
My involvement requires me to coach, guide and mentor each of the individual’s using the development programme I designed as the catalyst to tap into some of their undoubted latent potential.
One of the assignments last month between the formal meetings was particularly challenging, and designed to stretch and ultimately strengthen each individual’s personal communication and presentation skills. The results at the subsequent feedback session were extremely surprising to everyone involved in the programme. Some of the individuals had performed exactly in-line with expectations whilst others, on the surface the ‘stronger’ leadership contenders, had noticeably under-performed in the assignment.
As I reflected on the experience, it reminded me of a couple of things:
Firstly, an old military saying, and I’ve seen this so often in both the boardroom and the sports arena, ‘when under intense pressure to perform, no man rises to any occasion, he simply sinks to the lowest level of training he has received’. Secondly, I recalled the following story entitled ‘Are YOU a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?’, which I heard many years ago and which I’d like to share with you now.
A young woman went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.
Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, “Tell me what do you see?”
“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they got soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it.
After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.
Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked. “What’s the point grandmother?”
Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity – boiling water – but each reacted very differently.
The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.
However, the ground coffee beans were unique, when they were put in the boiling water, they changed the water!
So now you’ve read the story, next time when you’re challenged, when under pressure, when faced with adversity – ask yourself…
Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pressure and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Do I have a fluid spirit, but after a disappointment, a rejection, a failure, a financial hardship or some other trial, do I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell still look the same, but on the inside do I have a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?
Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavour. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.
The great news is that knowing which one is you, provides a level of self-awareness that you can translate into action. So the next time you’re faced with adversity and challenge decide, do YOU want to be a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
If you are enjoying this blog, you may also like to visit my newly updated mountaineering and photography web pages – I think you’ll enjoy the scenery!
I look forward to hearing from you and in the meantime onwards + upwards!
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