We hear a lot about flightless animals that try to go airborne. When pigs fly, when monkeys fly, there are even some more colorful derivatives of this metaphor which symbolize the likelihood of something happening as nil, zero, zilch, the big goose egg. This despite the fact that Ben Franklin thought the turkey actually a more respectable bird than the eagle.
I was recently at a conference in Lancaster, PA where author and friend Mark Sanborn
said, “In a tornado, even turkeys can fly.” Now I have nothing against turkeys but in the leadership world they are often used as a metaphor for folks that are slow, incompetent, or lacking in other favorable workplace qualities. They are often contrasted with the eagle which is majestic, driven, and courageous enough to fly solo above the masses to reach new heights.
I first took this statement to mean that in complete chaos or the blustering business world, even a poor leader, or a turkey, can be lifted up. But we all know that’s not really directed flight, that‘s just getting buffeted around like a plane in turbulence. And that’s not following a flight path, a vector, or a goal; that’s going where the winds of change push you.
I’ve worked for a few turkeys in my life. When the going got tough, they started whipping around in the events that were perplexing them. Because they lacked the ability to rise about the thrash, it was almost instinctual for them to dive into the vortex and be buffeted around. To them, that was leadership. I’m active, I’m in motion; therefore, I’m leading.
But then I thought about the time when I had to lead some turkeys. I had to get them off the ground and into motion. I had to create some type of vortex in their lives in order to get them to move. While some thought me cruel and wished to God I would leave them static, that’s not the leader’s job in developing people to meet mission requirements.
I realize that not every turkey will morph into an eagle. But every turkey is capable of spreading their wings and doing something better than all the other birds in their flock. This makes them feel valued as an individual and contributes to the overall efficiency of the team. Like the eagles, we have to move our wings to soar like them. And yes, this includes the turkeys.