On a recent canoe trip, I paddled over to the bank to pick up a plastic pop bottle floating near the edge of the water. This is my version of a mini-river sweep. As I reached the bank, I noticed a box turtle was resting in the slick mud. It didn't appear that he would be able to get out of this mess without a significant rain to free him. From the look of the skies, this was going to be a rain-free day.
I looked closer at the turtle and realized that he was an unusually beautiful light green color. I was so impressed with his color that I scooped him up and deposited him in my canoe. When I returned to my property, I placed my new friend in the grass and wished him a happy healthy life. I didn't expect to see much of him again.
The next day, I was exercising by walking several times up and down the hill from my house to the river. After the third trip, I rested at the river bank to take in the scenery. I happened to glance down in the mud where I put in and take out my canoe. I was surprised to see the pretty light green turtle back in the exact same situation as when I first met him. Again, he seemed immobile. I have read that box turtles often enter streams in hot weather but the slick mud seemed to be a problem for him. So, I slid my hiking stick underneath the turtle, balanced him upon it, and placed him back into the grass on the bank.
Four days later I were beginning another canoe ride. As we shoved away from the bank, I looked and once again saw the turtle in the mud. This time I left him to his own business. A few days later while visiting the river, the turtle was nowhere to be found. He reappeared in the same spot three days later and repeatedly over the next two weeks.
I read about box turtles in the encyclopedia and found that they often seek water during hot summer days. I finally realized that by my Good Samaritan act I was actually making it harder for the turtle. Being a cold-blooded reptile, his body temperature is regulated by the temperature in the atmosphere. He was taking advantage of the coolness of the mud and water to lower his body temperature. Employees resist change for a lot of different reasons. All of these reasons are linked to their past experiences and are legitimate in their minds. When a leader forces an employee to do things a certain way, he/she may not see any obvious resistance.
However, in many cases the employee, once the leader is not around will fall back into his/her own preferred approach. Be careful that as a leader you don't get in the habit of putting the turtle back on the bank. Spend some time to understand why your employee feels comfortable doing his/her work the old way. With this information, you can better explain why the change is needed or jointly modify the task to meet the needs of the organization and the employee.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com or call him at 1-740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.