While a Greek fabelist who lived more than 2500 years ago might not be the first place you turn for leadership advice, ole’ Aesop got it right . . . sort of . . .
It appears Aesop may himself have been a closet tortoise, given the somewhat negative light in which he casts the hare, so I’ll excuse him for missing the part of the story that says to be most effective, an organization needs both tortoises and hares. And . . . rather than racing against each other . . . they area actually part of the same relay team. The hare runs lead off, getting the team out of the gates in a burst of energy, and the tortoise runs the anchor leg, responsible for bringing it across the finish line. If that’s the case, why does it sometimes feel like they are running against each other? Well, they are different animals, and so may not automatically recognize their complementary natures.
Hares move around with lots of energy, checking out this opportunity and that one. They are always keeping their eyes open for the new possibility that others might miss. They bounce along a path that makes great sense to them, even if is sometimes difficult for a “non-hare” to understand how they jumped from point A to point H. Hares are your entrepreneurs, your “what if” and “how about” people. They usually have a higher tolerance for risk than their more tortoise-like colleagues, and their eyes tend to glaze over a bit amid the details of taking their great idea to scale.
This is when you want to pass the baton and allow the tortoise to shine. Tortoises understand the details of how to take something to scale. They know the regulations, how changes will impact staff and (to many hares surprise) can be quite creative in finding a way around the obstacles in front of them. Give them a task, and they will get down into the weeds and figure it out. They tend to be less distractible because they are firmly locked on the goal, as opposed to the hare, who is constantly scanning the landscape. Give a tortoise a task, and they will make it happen.
An organization full of hares will have lots of great ideas, but may fall short on large-scale implementation. All tortoises will do a fabulous job at the task they are given, but may not venture to far outside the safety of their shell. Yes, these are over-generalizations . . . and many of us are a blend of tortoise and hare. The moral of the story, however, is that even though they may not always understand each other, an organization needs both tortoises and hares if they are going to win the race.