Leadership Lessons From a Groundhog

What can I learn about leadership from a groundhog? That’s a question I bet you’ve never asked yourself.  Don’t worry. Until recently, I hadn’t either.

That changed on April 1st when a new blanket of snow covered the ground. I began to mourn the perpetual state of winter and had a random thought about Punxsutawney Phil.

Every February 2nd, a large woodchuck (named Punxsutawney Phil) is taken from his wintertime hole in Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if the creature sees his shadow, we need to brace for six more weeks of winter. Supposedly, if he doesn’t see his shadow it means that spring is right around the corner. This year he didn’t see his shadow! Winter should be a distant memory… It turned out Punxsutawney Phil emerged from a den of lies!

I found myself getting irritated at this large woodland rodent. Why did his prediction of an early spring turn out so blatantly wrong (besides the fact that a groundhog isn’t a trained meteorologist)? He didn’t see his shadow. Isn’t that a good thing?

This prompted me to think about my own leadership journey.  I recalled times I was sure that situations would turn out one way and they ended up going the opposite. In a spirit of unwarranted optimism, I predicted an “early spring” only to endure a longer “winter”.  For the first time, I saw a potential similarity between a groundhog and myself. Namely, my failure to see my shadow doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

As human beings, we all have a “shadow” side to our personality. Maybe you can identify with one of the following examples…

Some of us are analytical. That is a beautiful thing…until we are stuck in inaction because we can’t overcome the fear of what could go wrong.

Others have a high value for excellence. This is amazing…until failing at something causes our whole world to collapse. The need for perfection in our self and in others is a cruel master.

Some of us are born leaders. The world needs those gifts…except when we run carelessly over people because we fear being taken advantage of.

Others are extremely relational. We can connect with people from a variety of backgrounds… but these qualities mask a fear of rejection. We adjust our actions to make the people around us happy and in the process, lose sight of who we truly are. 

One of the greatest dangers to effective leadership is ignoring your shadow.

There is good news. Unlike the legend of Punxsutawney Phil, when we see our shadow, it often initiates a season of growth. Facing our shadow might not be pleasant, but it can lead to a true “spring” in our inner world.  It can also bring life to the people around us. The fact is they probably already see and experience the effects of our shadow whether we do or not.

Maybe next February I’ll focus a little less on whether a woodchuck is seeing his shadow and spend more time considering if I am seeing mine.

The More You Know

We swim in a sea of information. It is so normal that we don’t even think about it.

This week alone, I Googled “When to prune an apple tree”, “Installing a kitchen faucet” and “Eliminating lower back pain”. FYI, the last search had no relationship to the previous two.

Not long ago, I would have needed to go to the library and spend hours in research to find answers to my pressing questions. In the case of my back, I would have needed to call my doctor too. Instead, I simply pulled my phone from my pocket and had countless answers in mere seconds.

Access to this level of knowledge is a beautiful thing. However, it also comes with a downside. One of the biggest pitfalls of our information age is the belief that information equals transformation. In other words, if my mind is filled with enough facts or if I can find an answer to a question quickly, it means that I am automatically growing as a human being.

According to this way of thinking, I am basically a plumber because I watched Youtube video about kitchen faucets.  In actuality, I am FAR from trustworthy around sinks, drains and garbage disposals. There is a missing link in this formula for growth.

We need to move beyond simply “knowing about” things to experiencing them firsthand. To frame it another way, a more accurate formula for personal growth is “Information plus application equals transformation”.

It doesn’t matter how much I know about trimming apple trees if I never get out my saw and pruning shears. I can watch 300 videos about kitchen faucets on Youtube but if I don’t get under my sink, all that knowledge makes no difference.

The same is true in every area of my life. If my knowledge doesn’t lead to action, the only thing the information does for me is make me feel like I am a bigger deal than I actually am. In the end, that can be as destructive as ignorance.

There is a timeless piece of wisdom that says, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up”. That contrast is interesting to me. While knowledge can be passive, true love always requires a move beyond a mental process into action.

So what is one small way you can put your knowledge into action today? Is there an area you’ve been delaying taking action? Maybe it’s the awareness that exercise keeps you healthy…so you jump on the treadmill. Perhaps it is knowing that relationships are important to your well-being…so you give your friend a call. Maybe your life is so busy that it is causing you anxiety…so you take 15 minutes to sit in silence.

Even a little step can make a huge difference.

As for me, I’m off to the chiropractor!