The Tortoise and the Hare; Favouring Slow and Steady Might Seem Impossible, But it’s Worth the Eff

Updated: Mar 2

Peer-to-peer coaching

Many of us have heard the story of the race between the tortoise and the hare. How everyone laughed at the idea of the tortoise taking on the hare in a race! The hare initially took off with great enthusiasm at a mad pace, then, seeing how far ahead he was, stopped for a nap.

The slow and steady tortoise crossed the line in front of him. Is there hidden in this fable ‘new’ wisdom (actually very old – Aesop’s fables are thought to date from the mid-6th century!) which might enable our lives and businesses to become more successful in a world that is changing ever faster by the year?

A counter-intuitive lesson

It seems ridiculous to think that by slowing down we can deal more effectively with the speed of change. My engineering, mathematical and logical brain thinks this is ridiculous. I feel like laughing out loud, like the animals in the fable, at the suggestion of the tortoise overcoming the speed of the hare.

The slowing down approach to business change has, in fact, occupied a few of our peer-to-peer leadership coaching forums over the past year and, as a result of the feedback I’ve received on how well individual members are succeeding with it, I decided to write about it.

Here is what people who have espoused ‘slow and steady’ say:

We listen more and better. At our management meetings, we are less likely to try to jump in to solve problems or implement new approaches until we have completely understood what it is we want to achieve and how it is going to impact others and the business in the future.

Each team member has become more respectful of others’ opinions and tries to understand rather than judge a point of view. This has led to us making more nuanced decisions plus a much greater level of inter-departmental commitment and motivation to make the agreed changes work. While there are still plenty of robust discussions and challenges, these are more likely to come from a place of caring rather than the egotistical drive of ‘minding my department’ that tended to dominate in the past.

Decisions are taken with more of a long-term perspective rather than the short-term view of solving the immediate problem. This has meant that we are less likely to have to re-visit the same problem.

More operational inter-departmental issues are solved outside the management meetings. Our people now use the time at meetings to tell their colleagues about the actions they have implemented and how they’re working. In other words, peer coaching is taking place at these meetings. The second result of decisions being made outside the meetings is that much more time is spent on strategic and cultural change, which has a more lasting benefit.

What exponents of slow and steady seem to like is the more relaxed and friendly culture that is emerging. Yet, to the surprise and delight of the leaders, this has not been to the detriment of productivity and margins, which have in fact improved.

Taming my own internal hare. If you’re a regular reader of my blogs, you’ll know that I have embraced the tortoise’s approach in my life. I can tell you it works – I am achieving much better results by slowing down. However, I can deeply empathize with how difficult it is to adapt to the new style. My internal hare still gets frustrated and impatient with both myself and the queue that is moving at the pace of the tortoise (generally all the other cars!). Equally, my tortoise can be very critical when I speed up and try to do too many things at once and have to go back over something I missed.

I have come to the conclusion that there is the hare and tortoise energy in all of us and the question is not which is better, but whether can we utilize both approaches more consciously and effectively in our personal and business lives.

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