As a kid I remember being pestered by aggressive seagulls at the beach. I thought if I threw them a few hot chips they’d be appeased and go away. How wrong I was. Suddenly there were more, and bolder still, with endless appetites!
The Mayor of London recently reduced soaring pigeon numbers simply by banning people from feeding them. To most they had become a nuisance and an eyesore, yet even in Trafalgar Square this strategy has reduced their numbers from many thousands to a few hundred.
“Don’t feed the birds” is just as effective as a leadership habit.
I’ve noticed that too often as leaders we give attention, and even unintentional reward, to the very things we don’t want more of. Then we’re surprised when it seems like we only have more of it to deal with.
Perhaps you get wind of some gossip amongst people in your team. So you sit them down, hear them out, follow up a few of the rumours, hoping that if they feel heard they won’t gossip again in future. You just fed the birds. What they actually learned was that they can get both your attention and your action with gossip.
Or maybe you operate like an organization I once worked with that believed in the importance of budgets but sometimes rewarded bad behaviour. Those who overspent their budgets were certainly scolded, but then the new year’s budgets were based on last year’s performance as a benchmark of what they needed. So one year in particular I had my budget cut since I had underspent the previous year, while another team who blew their budget was rewarded with an increase the following year since “they obviously needed it”. Birds will come back, even if do you yell at them before feeding them.
If you want to put out a fire, starve it of air.
- I wonder which fires you might be giving air to in your team?
- I wonder what irritations you’re experiencing only more of because you feed them?
- What values, what language, what culture, what behaviour or issues do you need to stop fueling?
Feed what you do want, starve what you don’t.