What Leaders Can Learn from Goldfish and Rottweilers

Time to Read: 2 mins...   

Metaphors and word pictures fascinate me. I seem to grasp ideas faster and better when I form an image in my mind of an issue that I’m interested in. 

Recently I ran across two articles which used powerful images that brought recent events into sharp focus for me and made me think about how leaders should evolve their thinking.

A recent post by Seth Godin opens with:

“One of the great cartoons involves two goldfish in a tank talking to one another. One responds in surprise, ‘wait, there’s water’?”

“When we don’t see the water, it’s a sign we’re benefiting from being part of a dominant culture.”

“And since we’re not fish, we can learn to see the water and figure out how it is affecting us and the people around us.”

Click here to read the entire post 

The other article is “I’m perceived as a Rottweiler” by Reggie Rivers – author, op-ed columnist for the Denver Post, and former Denver Broncos running back. Here’s an excerpt:

“My white friends ‘intellectually’ understand what I’m saying (being black and pulled over by the police), and they sympathize with me. But they can’t quite empathize because their life experience is so different from mine.”

“I realized a few years ago, that two dog breeds reflect the differences between the white and black experience.”

“White people in America are Labrador retrievers; black people, like me, are Rottweilers.

“In our country, Labrador retrievers are beloved animals, welcome in hardware stores, parks, restaurants, the homes of strangers, hiking trails and just about anywhere else you can think of. They’re seen as kind, loving, loyal, playful, happy and completely ‘safe’.”

“I am a Rottweiler. Society views me as a threat no matter where I am – on the sidewalk, in the street, in the park, in a car and even in my own yard. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. My mere presence is threatening enough to compel someone to call animal control to remove me.”

Click here to read the entire article 

From time to time, as a leader, you need to challenge your basic assumptions. Like the goldfish - to become aware of the water in which you are swimming. In work environments, it’s taking a deep look at the culture and values of your organization – do they fit the times?

Also, to realize the judgments you make of others – who is your Rottweiler? What are the automatic ways in which you jump to conclusions about people?

It’s healthy to step back and find a new perspective on who you are and how you act as a leader. Sometimes taking a deep look will reaffirm positives and be a reason for pride. At other times, the look will require you to make some fundamental changes, which may be very uncomfortable, but necessary. Step into the challenge and lead the way – starting with yourself.

Action Steps: 
•  Reflect on yourself, your team, your organization, or your community
•  Pick something you care about and start making it better.

Charles St.John

P.S. Tell me what you think – add your comments below.