Herb is a hamster, named by my then 15-year-old daughter.
One night my wife was upstairs in the media room and shrieked, “who left Herb’s cage open?” The entire family assembled at the door of the large room where we shut the doorand looked at each other with confusion. We assumed that Herb could not have made it too far, so we began pulling the couches off the wall, bookshelves, moved boxes, essentially anything that was not nailed down was being overturned.
In one of the first corners of the room that we uncovered, we discovered a pile of carpet that had been chewed up, all the way down to the wood. No Herb. We went to another corner of the room, another pile of carpet and material. NoHerb. Another and another corner, No Herb. The last corner we cameto, we found Herb in a ball, underneath his pile of carpet debris, cuddled up and exhausted from her great adventure. To no avail, she could not escape the room even after trying to chew her way out of countless corners.
We put Herb back in the cage. But as I cannot seem to escape leadership metaphors these days,Herb left me a lesson.
Herb believes her captivity lies in the cage. Night after night, I hear Herb attempting to chew her way through the bars. Every night, chewing and chewing. Then she gets up on her wheel and runs for a while, then chews again, sleeps,chews, runs, eats, chews. You get the point. Then one day, as fatewould have it, Herb has a glorious shot at freedom. Only to find that the real captivity lies in the boundaries outside the cage, in something bigger and more profound than the cage. In fact, the cage is just a smaller subsetof the real captivity. The media room. And despite Herb’s attemptsto eat her way out of that broader captivity, she finds herself back in her cage, doing it all over again.
We sometimes think our jobis what is keeping us captive or “The Cage”. Like Herb, I hear manyleaders thinking if they can just change the context or circumstances, THEN itwill be better. They assess the current situation, size it up, and seethat it must be better “over there”. They chew, run, and in many cases break out of the walls of the cage. Only to find themselves captive tosomething bigger. The walls of the Media room are what I like to think istheir “mindset”, defined as those decisions and beliefs that we hold on to aswe go through life.
Don’t get me wrong, thereare many cases that a job change and shift can make sense. Particularlywhen a leader feels that their ability to impact change and serve anorganization has run its course. Other reasons might include misalignmenton values, ethics, etc. However, if a leader is changing the contextwithout realizing it is really the mindset that needs to shift first, well,then you are just switching cages. Keep chewing.
Simon Sinek in his book, Leaders Eat Last,talks about how leaders after reading these leadership books, immediately findfault in the company they are with and set out to find “Nirvana Company” wherethat organization will embrace their wonderful leadership with open arms. He challenges readers that all companies are pretty messed up in some way andthat our real leadership can be found in sticking it out and making the companyyou are in a better place by leading to where it needs to go. Intentionally wechoose to participate in making it better for those around us. After all,a company’s culture is really the aggregate of individuals that act in acertain way collectively.
Your mindset is like themedia room corners. Herb kept trying to chew her way out only to findthat it was useless. The work I do with leaders is to connect mindsets tobehaviors that can be limiting, enhanced, or created. When that is done,it creates next level performance as a leader. Said differently, if welet go of limiting mindsets or beliefs and decisions that hold us back, we blowup the walls of the media room that keep us truly captive.
Imagine if Herb’s cage wasoutside in our driveway and the cage door was open. Imagine if Herb choseto stay in that cage, but also understood that outside that cage was a world offreedom that existed. Essentially, Herb chose to stay in the cage for herfood, water, shelter, but also knew that at some point she can get out andwander around freely to participate when and where Herb wants in the worldaround her. Herb might also find another cage intentionally to live inwhen Herb felt her time was up living in the current cage. After all, sheis free to go at her choosing.
Leaders, get this. We have got to understand these mindsets that hold us back and truly keep uscaptive to what we can become as a next level leader. It takes a greatdeal of awareness, insight, and self-examination to understand these patternsin our life and shift to a life of intentionality in what we do, personally andprofessionally.
So next time you aregnawing on your cage, ask yourself is it the cage or the media room you aretrying to break out of in your leadership? Maybe some of the answers in yourleadership reside in first eliminating the walls and mindsets of the “mediaroom” versus escaping the cage.