Are You Trying To Teach Chickens To Fly?

posted by Darren Mitchell April 13, 2015 0 comments


One of the great benefits of living in the country is having chickens – they are fascinating creatures and they never cease to keep my family entertained. They love roaming the property ‘free range style’, always staying close to one another, and never drifting too far from their coop. Watching them is intriguing. They are forever foraging for food on the ground, sifting through grass, weeds and dirt to find the succulent insect, worm or snail, only occasionally raising their head to look around and check their environment. And when they either sense danger or become excited about something, they may even leap off the ground and appear to fly for over a metre, but never getting any higher than a metre off the ground. They certainly do not leave the brood and soar like eagles! As I was watching these chickens over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the lessons that chickens can provide us as leaders, especially if we are a leader who is trying to create eagles! The question that came to mind at that time was “as a leader, are you trying to teach chickens to fly so that they may become eagles?” If you are, what are the chances?

In reflecting on my leadership career, I can recall many occasions where I was doing exactly that, and wondering why the results were not improving, and why the engagement of the people was dropping. What I eventually realised, was that no matter what you do, or how hard you try, people will always respond in different ways and some people will change, and some people will not, some people will succeed, and some will not. You cannot change people, only those people can change themselves – so rather than trying to turn chickens into eagles by teaching the chickens how to fly, the focus needs to be on finding good people (the eagles), who already know how to fly, they may just need encouragement and support in order to soar. If you are looking for motivated people, you need to find them, not motivate them.

If you are trying to teach chickens to fly, there are three probable outcomes :

Outcome 1 – You will frustrate the chicken! : Chickens play a very important part in life; they are not meant to be eagles and fly, and nor do they want to be. Chickens love being together in a group, staying in the group and foraging & scratching around on the ground for food. They are also consistent & reliable producers – our chickens lay an egg every day. As a leader, recognise the consistent producers in your team. They are the people who will constantly meet the objectives, kpi’s and sales targets, who will be fantastic at picking off the ‘low hanging fruit’ and deliver consistent results, but never over exceeding. They are people who know what they are good at, what there strengths are, and will continue to focus on those strengths. They also love being part of the team, and will seek to involve others in their activities and opportunities. So as a leader, focus on identifying these people within your team and encourage them to focus on their strengths, and do not try and turn them into eagles – you will only frustrate them!

Outcome 2 – You will frustrate the eagles! :  The thing about eagles is that they do not want to hang around with chickens – they want to soar high into the sky and explore, they don’t need to be in a group, they are more than happy on their own. In fact, they prefer it. Eagles spend very little time on the ground foraging and scratching for food – they spend the majority of their time soaring high in the sky, searching much wider for food, and will focus on bigger prey, the bigger prize. The eagle has tremendous vision, is fearless, tenacious and is a tremendous nurturer. As a leader, focus on identifying the eagle or eagles in your team, and encourage and empower them to create, explore and innovate. Encourage them to go after the ‘big deal’, the ‘big hairy audacious goal’, and create the space for them to hunt, knowing that they will bring the prey home to the nest. Identify the ‘eagle in training’ and allow the other eagles to take them under their wing and nurture and develop them – just make sure you identify an eagle, and not a chicken!

Outcome 3 – You will frustrate yourself! : There is nothing more frustrating than trying to teach a chicken to fly, when all it wants to do is forage and scratch around on the ground. You may see the grand vision of what is possible, but all the chicken is interested in, is what is in front of it. Save yourself the frustration and understand that your job is to help the chicken become a better chicken, help the eagle become a better eagle and help both of them unleash their fullest potential. Do this, and frustration will fall away.

So instead of trying to teach your chickens to fly, focus on identifying who the eagles are, and know what it is that you are looking for. Here’s the thing – the purpose of a leader is to look for, identify, and develop potential leaders within the team. Here are some characteristics to look out for when searching for eagles :

Adaptability – the eagle can quickly adjust and adapt quickly to their environment and circumstances, and embrace change. Look for people who can adapt and embrace change.

Perspective & Vision – the eagle has tremendous vision and can easily seen beyond their own vantage point or position. In fact, an eagle’s vision is so great that it is able to see another eagle soaring up to 80 kilometres away. Look for people who have great vision.

Security – the eagle does not have to be with others for security, they are secure where ever they are. Look for people who do not search for their identity in a position, and who can bring independence of thought.

Resourcefulness – the eagle is very resourceful and will find creative ways to stalk and hunt its prey. If at first it does not succeed, it will find another way, always focussed on making things happen and achieving a result. Look for people who are resourceful, who find creative ways to make things happen.

Endurance – the eagle has the ability to soar for long periods of time, covering great distances in order to achieve their objective. Look for people who are consistent in character and competence over the long haul, who are able to go the distance.

Accountability – the eagle is 100% accountable, especially when nurturing its young. It can be counted on when it counts. Look for people who can step up and be accountable, consistently, and who can be relied upon.

Leadership is challenging enough – please don’t make it any more challenging by trying to teach chickens to fly! Allow the chickens to be chickens, and identify the eagles, and may your leadership success continue to soar!


Thank you for taking the time to read this post – I greatly appreciate it, and welcome comments and feedback. Please feel free to comment below, to follow me on LinkedIn, or to connect via Twitter or Facebook.

Are you a sales leader seeking to increase your influence? Click this link to download a FREE copy of my eBook “Lead With Influence – The 7 Strategic Keys to Unleash Your Sales Leadership Potential”.

About : Darren is an Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant, Trainer, Facilitator, Speaker. A  passionate and driven individual specialising in personal development, strategic planning, coaching for advocacy & enhanced performance, situational and servant based leadership, executive coaching of people leaders, emerging leaders and ‘high potential’ individual contributors within the Enterprise & Government market, personal change management, and strategic workshop facilitation & training.

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