Don’t Feed The Birds

Don’t Feed The Birds

Posted by in Leadership

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.


Paul Andrew is Founder of The Leadership Coach
He is a Keynote Speaker and Management Consultant based in New York
[email protected]| +1 917 913 4598 | LinkedIn | Website | Blog | Twitter

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24 Responses to “Don’t Feed The Birds”

  1. Caleb

    20. Apr, 2012

    LOVE IT… great thought Paul. Couldn’t agree more.

  2. AJ

    20. Apr, 2012

    Very true. There are definitely some sea gulls in my life who I need to simply ignore. Sea gulls only take, and never reciprocate. Great insight! Thanks

  3. Andrew Bennett

    20. Apr, 2012

    Brilliant, Paul. Thanks.

  4. Paul Andrew

    20. Apr, 2012

    Thanks Caleb!

  5. Paul Andrew

    20. Apr, 2012

    Great point – it’s a one way relationship

  6. Paul Andrew

    20. Apr, 2012

    Thanks Andrew – hope life & business are good!

  7. Helen

    20. Apr, 2012

    Your metaphors are brilliant and spot on. Will be forwarding this blog to my Leadership Program participants. Sound words.

  8. Mark Setch

    20. Apr, 2012

    This is brilliant, Paul. I love reading your Leadership Coach blogs – you’re metaphors are fantastic! Like you I am a pastor as well as a leadership coach, and have learnt the hard way of the perils of feeding the birds!

  9. Paul Andrew

    21. Apr, 2012

    Great thanks Helen – hope it helps them!

  10. Paul Andrew

    21. Apr, 2012

    I appreciate that Mark, and go well on the journey too – we’re living the dream!

  11. Susan

    21. Apr, 2012

    Once, a lady at my work put up a sign in the kitchen telling people to clean up after themselves (couldn’t agree more!), then every afternoon without failure, she’d go and washes up everyone’s dishes. Funnily, all people saw was a problem that took care of itself.

  12. Charmaine Allison

    21. Apr, 2012

    Hi Paul. I enjoyed reading your Article which opened my

    eyes to some sea gulls in my life. Thank you for that; now I

    am sorted. I will feed the ones I want to keep and starve the

    ones I do not wish to keep.

    Thank you once again.

  13. Rajan

    22. Apr, 2012

    Great metaphor. We attract what don’t want because we spend so much of time and energy resisting things we don’t want. Instead shifting our thinking to what we really want, it is empowering and liberating. My current consulting project is a classic example of this.

    Keep these coming Paul. Thanks.

  14. Paul Andrew

    22. Apr, 2012

    Wow – that’s a perfect illustration!

  15. Paul Andrew

    22. Apr, 2012

    Thanks Rajan… I will!

  16. Paul Andrew

    22. Apr, 2012

    We all have them… recognizing them is the key!

  17. Gail

    22. Apr, 2012

    In child behavioural management I’ve taught and experienced for years that “Rewarded behaviour is repeated behaviour.”

    People will follow the rewards whether it’s extra budget for overspend, attention for gossiping, sulking or tantrums, promotions for bad work, or laughs for disrepectful comments.

    Feeding the birds rewards the behaviour, whether or not it is desired behaviour so it’s repeated. So feed the birds you want to have around and starve the ones you don’t.

  18. Herig

    23. Apr, 2012

    This is a Blessing of insight i’ve got….Truthfully,one have to starve the fire off Air…Gossip will come, but don’t pay attention..Cuz this what makes you a Leader…..Thanks Paul.

  19. Francie Van Wirkus

    29. May, 2012

    Paul, I like this message; thank you for sharing it! As leaders, we can easily give too much attention to the wrong things. You can truly be an engaged leader of the wrong type!

    Your words are inspiring to thoughtfully examine what it is we keep coming back to. Thank you!

  20. Francie Van Wirkus

    29. May, 2012

    So true, Susan!

  21. hermes 鞄

    09. Aug, 2013

    hermes 仙台

  22. Dr Kenny

    21. Nov, 2013

    Loved it, and you are spot on. Thanks for the commitment of your heart to lead and develop better leaders, like yourself.
    Jesus is proud of your heart and your passion. Keep it up my friend. Hoping to come visit you next year around October, after our Minister’s Fellowship International conference in DC.
    Would love to see and pray over the wonderful work you and Andi are doing in NYC….Liberty Be blessed and encouraged
    Your friend — Kenny (Guam)

  23. Frank

    15. Aug, 2014

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    14. Oct, 2015

    Thanks again for the article.Really thank you! Great.