Jumping Mouse and the story of authentic leadership….
In his book, Seven Arrows (New York: Random House, 1972), author Hyemeyohsts Storm tells a remarkable story about an ordinary little mouse that spends his days doing ordinary mouse things: examining and collecting, gathering seeds and nuts and storing them away for the winter. But this particular mouse has a problem, because every once and awhile he lifts his head, twitches his whiskers, and listens.
One day as he is going about his business, he asks another mouse working near him, “Brother Mouse, do you hear what I hear?” The other mouse says, “Hear what? I hear nothing!” The first mouse timidly says, “I hear a roaring in my ears.” The second mouse says, “Leave me alone. Go back to your work so I can go back to mine.” The little mouse goes back to his work, but he can’t seem to get the roaring sound out of his ears.
One day, the little mouse decides to investigate the source of the roaring in his ears so he ventures just a little bit away from Mouse Land and when he does, he meets a raccoon. The raccoon tells the little mouse that he knows where the roaring is coming from and, if the little mouse would be willing to follow him for awhile, he can show him its source. The little mouse summons all of his courage and agrees to follow the raccoon who takes the little mouse down a strange path filled with strange sights and smells. He is very afraid but thinks to himself, “I’ll go and see this thing called a river. Maybe it can help me with my examining and gathering.”
Finally, the raccoon brings the little mouse to a river and tells him that this is the source of the roaring in his ears. It is there beside The Sacred River that the little mouse is offered some Medicine. He is told he must crouch as low as he can and jump as high as he is able and then he will have his Medicine. The little mouse does as he is told and when he jumps up he sees the far away Sacred Mountains. In the process, the little mouse gets a new name: Jumping Mouse.
Jumping Mouse can hardly contain his enthusiasm and rushes back to Mouse Land to tell all of his friends about his adventure and his vision of the Sacred Mountains, but when he does, all the other mice think Jumping Mouse must have gone crazy. If he is crazy, then he might also be a threat to their village. Jumping Mouse tries to go back to his examining and gathering but he just can’t seem to get the vision of the Sacred Mountains out of his head. One day, he sets out again to find the Sacred Mountains, leaving his village behind forever.
Jumping Mouse goes on to have a series of adventures on his way to the Sacred Mountains. Along the way he serves many other creatures he meets and, in the process, discovers some things about himself he never suspected. If you are interested, you can read the entire Jumping Mouse story on Storm’s website, http://www.hyemeyohstsstorm.com/, but we will leave our little friend there for now.
These are interesting and challenging times to be a leader. With things changing as fast as they are today, it’s hard to see what the future holds. We have fewer resources to work with, less money to spend on projects that might be helpful, and seemingly more threats from more directions than ever before. At least we can take some comfort in the fact that, with the job market being what it is, we don’t have to worry too much about our people jumping ship. Or do we?
Two recent studies, one by the Corporate Executive Board and the other by Kelton Research for Cornerstone on Demand, came to similar conclusions: high potential employees are increasingly disengaged from their work and thinking about leaving their jobs. We know that offering them more money isn’t the answer. Not only is it not feasible to do so in many organizations today, but studies have shown that earnings and benefits have only a 2% impact on job satisfaction and engagement compared to a 70% impact from job quality and workplace support. Simply paying our employees more money is easy compared to figuring out how to improve “job quality and workplace support.”
So, what does this news about disengaged workers have to do with a parable about a mouse? The little mouse spent all his life doing exactly what good little mice are supposed to do. We aren’t told this in the story, but I believe he was pretty successful as a mouse. He probably had a nice stash of seeds and nuts put away for the winter. Only for this particular mouse, a nice stash of seeds wasn’t enough; it wasn’t that he wanted a bigger stash, he just wanted something different. The roaring in his ears wasn’t the problem, it was just the symptom. It was a calling to another kind of life, another way of seeing the world. In our organizations, the little mouse with the problem might be that person on your team who spends a lot of time these days staring out the window; the one who was productive for years but lately you just can’t seem to motivate to make sales calls. Or maybe it’s you.
Ok, so there’re a few disgruntled people in your organization, so what? What else is new? They can go and find themselves while the rest of us get back to the important work at hand. Right? Well, what if you knew that over a third of the people in your organization were quite possibly hearing a roaring in their ears? What effect might that have on workplace moral and productivity? And what if the people in your organization who were most likely to find new and creative ways to solve the complex problems you are facing are also the ones who are most likely to leave, or at least spend a lot of time at work contemplating doing so? What impact might that have on your ability to lead?
In their book, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 million people are changing the world(Harmony Books; New York, 2000), sociologist Paul H. Ray, Ph.D. and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson, Ph.D. presented their findings and conclusions from over thirteen years of survey research on American values, worldviews, and lifestyles. They identified three major groups of people in the U.S. and called them The Traditionals, The Moderns, and The Cultural Creatives. The groupings were determined not on opinion surveys, as opinions can change very quickly depending on what people are focusing on at the moment, but on values. Values are people’s most important life priorities, the bases for what they actually do, what they accomplish, and how they want to be.
The group we are most interested in here are The Cultural Creatives. The Cultural Creatives value things like ecological sustainability, social conscience, authenticity in social life, altruism, and self actualization and spirituality. This is not to say that members of the other two groups don’t value any of these things, it’s just that the Cultural Creatives rank these things as being the most important values in their lives. These are the kind of values they either are making life decisions around or at least aspire to. Notice there is nothing on the Cultural Creatives’ values list about financial gain, professional success, or material possessions. (Those are values of the Moderns, by the way.)
At the time of the publication of their book, Ray and Anderson estimated that the Cultural Creatives made up roughly 50 million people. In an updated survey in 2008, they estimated that the Cultural Creatives group had grown to 80 million American adults—roughly 35% of the population—and the numbers are expected to continue growing while the population of Traditionals and Moderns shrink. Think about it: Based on this statistical estimate, it’s likely that over one-third of the people in your organization are Cultural Creatives. Furthermore, if you as a leader aren’t providing an environment that fits with their deeply held values, it’s also highly likely they are the “disengaged” people the above-mentioned surveys are talking about—the ones who are contemplating leaving your company right now, in spite of the economic downturn. Even if they don’t know why they are disengaged, even if they don’t recognize themselves as Cultural Creatives, they are still hearing a “roaring in their ears;” and since they don’t value seeds and nuts, offering them more money probably won’t work. So what can you do about these mice?
A report from OnPoint Consulting in February 2009 identified several strategies for motivating and retaining top talent including: creating a sense of purpose, providing meaningful work, and enhancing trust and communication. These are all directly in alignment with the values of the Cultural Creatives and are worthy goals for any organization, but they might also seem pretty daunting. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- When the mouse wants to leave, let him or her go. You could take that one of two ways: the “don’t-let-the-screen-door-hit-you-on the you-know-what-on-the-way-out” way, or you could send them joyously off on their journey with a request that they return and teach the rest of the organization what they learned from the experience. More and more corporations are giving their employees paid time off from work to participate in volunteer projects; a wonderful step in the right direction, but what about following the lead of many academic and religious organizations that give their leaders sabbatical time? Yes, I know, your people get paid vacation, but we all know what vacations look like today. With all the wonderful technology at our disposal we’re never truly away anymore. A sabbatical requires the participant to getcompletely away. Study after study has shown that when people take time away from their normal lives, particularly time spent in nature, their creativity goes way up. Letting your mouse go find the source of the roaring in their ears might not only keep them happy at work, they might also come back with a breakthrough idea that ends up producing far more income for the organization than it ever cost in terms of short-term loss of productivity. Who knows, the next time they hearing a roaring, you just might spring for the plane tickets!
- Create an organization that’s friendly to Jumping Mouse. This doesn’t happen overnight, and it can be a difficult task. As soon as you get the idea of putting out free bagels in the break room as a thank-you for a job well done some Cultural Creative in the crowd complains because they came from a big box store in a plastic bag instead of their favorite local artisan bakery in a recycled box. It’s not that Cultural Creatives are high maintenance (well, some of them are) it’s just that they value different things than you might value. Instead of starting their day with a free bagel, they might prefer 15 minutes of meditation in the conference room. These aren’t the kind of perks leaders in most organizations are used to handing out, so it will take some time to get used to, but more and more of your people are coming to highly value them, so get ready. Mostly though, a Cultural Creative friendly environment will support soul growth as much as what we have been calling professional growth. Yes, that’s right, soul’s growth. Which leads to the next point…
- Be willing to have the conversation. We have done a really good job in our culture of creating organizations that require people to leave the most essential part of themselves—their souls—at the door each day. We have done that in an effort to separate religion from the secular so no one is offended, but we need to understand that religion isn’t spirituality. Religion is the practice of a set of beliefs. Spirituality is the idea that there is an unseen power, presence, or energy that stands behind and within the physical realm. We can be respectful of one another’s individual religious beliefs while recognizing that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience. For some reason, we are comfortable in the business world with sports metaphors like “being in the zone,” but uncomfortable talking about “feeling connected to an energy we can’t see,” even though those are two different ways of describing essentially the same thing. We need to invite the soul to work (how about a National Bring Your Soul to Work Day?). Doing so will help us to have a more meaningful conversation about values, an essential component of moving our organizations forward. Finally…
- Leaders need to be guides. Like the raccoon in the story, a guide is someone who knows the lay of the land because they have walked it before. If we have never heard a roaring, followed a yearning, or chosen a path less traveled by, it will be hard for us to communicate with the employee feeling the tug of their soul—let alone be able to recognize it when we see it. We can’t expect others to go where we have never been ourselves. As leaders in a time of great change, we have to be as committed to our own soul’s journey as we are to our professional development. Leadership today demands it. Remember, 35% of the people who report to you value spiritual growth. They’ll expect the same from their leader.
Our organizations are important and have important work to do in the world. We want to see them grow and thrive into the future. In order for our organizations to be all they can be, the individual members need to be all they can be as well. Our organizations need the full participation of its members’ minds, bodies and souls if they are to survive the big challenges ahead. We’ll all need to use resources we might not have even been aware we possessed: intuition, heart, soul. We’ll need organizations that provide work that is meaningful and done in an environment that allows its members to bring their full and complete selves to work every day.
But don’t take my word for it. After all, I’m just a raccoon snooping around the edges of your organization waiting for stray mice to show up complaining about a roaring in the ears. No, don’t listen to me; listen instead to Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine. In an April 2004 edition of the magazine, Karlgaard openly wondered about the future direction of business. He noted that the 1990’s were about the “quality revolution” and the early days of the 21st Century were about the “cheap revolution.” In looking ahead, he said this:
So, what’s left? Meaning. Purpose. Deep life experience. Use whatever word or phrase you like, but know that consumer desire for these qualities is on the rise. Remember your Abraham Maslow and your Victor Frankel. Bet your business on it. (Forbes, April 26, 2004)
That approach could even make a Culturally Creative Jumping Mouse smile.
By Tom Anderson