Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Herding Snails

Herding Snails

This morning we are in Camarillo, California on our way to Santa Barbara to spend a few days at Mount Calvary. As is our custom, we went on a long walk. The ocean-side mountains are hid from our view by the cool, misty fog. It made for a gentle contrast to the harsh desert heat we fled.

Somewhere in our wondering, we came upon a stretch of about eight feet of sidewalk to discover nearly a dozen snails crossing the four-foot path. The snails were at varying degrees of their journey. Some were near the goal of the lush vegetation lining the opposite side of the walk. Others were just beginning, what I imagine, was a long journey.

We stopped to admire their pace. Being on the first day of our holiday, it was a good reminder.

It was also a moment of musing. We often remark about the impossibility of herding cats, especially for the leaders of our large institutions of independent thinkers, like universities, public schools and the Church.

But, maybe in our archaic and behemoth structures, leaders are more likely faced with herding snails instead of the quicker feline. What institutional participant moves with the grace and agility of the cat when change is at hand?

My own experience and that of my walking partner’s, both of whom have many years of leadership in gigantic and ancient crumbling pillars of America, is that directing change is like the herd of the snails we encountered.

Our approach as leaders, if focused on the process and not the outcome, might find our “herd” less startled, frightened, and scattering for cover, but instead, if leaders are patient, will find our charges willing to move at their own pace towards a new feeding ground, where the fruits will yield a result far outstripping our strategic planning.

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