Feb. 16, 2016 – There’s a native American legend that explains the struggle that goes on inside each of us and compares it to a fierce and constant battle between two wolves. The legend explains that one wolf is evil and filled with things like anger, jealousy, greed, self-pity and arrogance. The other wolf is good and filled with opposite things, like peace, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, compassion and faith. The story is told to a young boy by an old brave or perhaps his grandfather. The young boy asks the obvious question at the end of the story, “Which wolf will win?”
The question is as relevant to us today as it was when it was originally asked. The battle rages on not only in each of us individually, but it is fought in our workplaces, our communities, and even our countries too. Last month, we watched the arrival of the first refugee families in Toronto. It was a small handful of people, but the press was there in droves. I watched the arrival unfold on the news — the Prime Minister of Canada was there giving hugs and helping kids put on winter jackets. The battle of the wolves inside my head raged. This is a handful of people, I thought, and there are hundreds of thousands that need to be helped, and many more still waiting to escape. There’s still a complicated war we are reluctant to fight in that area of the world, and it will be difficult to win, if it can be won at all. The leader I saw moments ago on TV giving out hugs and winter jackets is the same leader that withdrew our country’s fighter jets from the cause. The evil wolf was clearly winning the battle in my head; the problem over there was too big, and what I was watching on TV — the arrival of a couple families to a new land — was not going to change anything at all. But then I started to see some of the other things: the relief and joy on the faces of those first off the plane; the welcoming embrace from strangers there to greet them to a new land; the stories of communities, churches and groups of people rising up to the challenge of sponsoring a family or multiple families. Perhaps these small acts would not change the entire world and fix the seemingly unfixable problem, but it was changing the world for those who are coming, and it even seemed to be changing the world for all those that are rallying their energies to receive them. The good wolf was starting to fight back. Faith, hope and love — actually put into action — is the only way to defeat the evil wolf in our heads.
It’s the same with our workplaces. A new initiative or idea is brought forward, and the wolves start to do battle. Some leadership experts suggest that a small group (perhaps only 10 per cent) of your people will embrace it and want it to succeed, while an equal-sized group will be bound and determined to see it fail. Both of these smaller groups, like the two wolves, will petition for the hearts and minds of the 80 per cent in the middle. Which wolf will win?
Many companies I see today are hamstrung by this battle. They want to make improvements, but they don’t want to incite the negative energies and influences they know lays in wait. Some might suggest that identifying and eliminating the negative influences is the answer, and perhaps in some cases that might be, but the evil wolf always creeps back in. Simply focusing on the elimination of negative attitudes does not guarantee that good attitudes will survive, let alone thrive. The 80 per cent in the middle are those who have been exposed to many well-intended but poorly executed plans, and they remember both of those things — the good intentions, and the negative outcomes. It’s even worse when the previous changes were never perceived as being well-intended for them, but only intended for the company.
So, which wolf wins? The answer is always the same — the wolf you feed is the wolf that will win. It’s the one that gains the strength needed to prevail. You can’t simply starve the other one out, because it always finds another source for food.
Which one are you feeding? If we want to get anything good accomplished, it’s a question we need to ask ourselves every day.
This column was originally published in the January/February 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.