You may have heard the Indian legend of a grandfather talking to his grandson about the battle that goes on inside people . . . a battle of two wolves. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. After thinking about this a moment, the grandson asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The grandfather simply replied, “The one that you feed.”
Perhaps there is no better example of that legend than social media. The documentary Social Dilemma highlights how the types of things you view on social media multiply on your feed because built-in algorithms steer you to more of the same, making it easy to lose sight of the fact that there are perspectives that differ from those you are seeing. Beyond social media, in our increasingly polarized society, there seems to be daily pressure to pick a side . . . stake out a position . . . feed a wolf.
On your leadership journey, how can you tilt the odds in favor of the good wolf?
Feed curiosity. What additional perspectives are out there? What experiences have people had that prompt them to see a situation differently? “Help me understand . . .” can be one of the most powerful questions a leader can ask. When a person moves up the organizational chart, they often begin to lose their curiosity, and become more convinced that they have the answers. Bonus benefit . . . curiosity also helps build buy-in from your team members, who feel heard and valued.
Feed optimism. I’m not talking about being a Pollyanna here. I am suggesting you assume positive intent. First, it taps into curiosity . . . why would someone, who also wants the best in this situation, see things differently than I do? Feeding optimism also prompts you to focus the the positives, the strengths, of both your people and a given situation. Research from Gallop indicates that a strengths-based approach builds employee engagement, which is increasingly critical for organizational success. And for those thinking optimism sounds nice but you have a business to run, research also shows that optimists are significantly more likely than pessimists to experience financial health.
Feed Joy. Joy is about gratitude. It is about an energizing sense of purpose. Unlike happiness, joy is not dependent on the circumstances. Joy comes from knowing you can impact a situation. It comes from connecting with people, acknowledging contributions, and cheering each other on. Feeding joy is about celebrating. It is an antidote to stress. Joy is about being in the moment. It sparks creativity, improves your mood, and often changes how you see a situation. Joy is a choice. And joy begets joy — when your people see you expressing joy, it gives them permission to do the same.
Curiosity, optimism and joy grow the good wolf. What are you feeding?