We are all so many things…

Sometimes ideas for this blog come from the strangest places. It might be a lightning-struck tree that sparks thoughts of fragility, or time spent weeding flower beds that germinates reflections on care and mindfulness. Wherever we look, something always emerges.

Today, it’s a photograph. This one:

The flying fish is an odd, odd creature, and not just because of the way it lives in two worlds. Each of the more than sixty species are structured precisely to their purpose, able to propel themselves out of the water for brief periods before returning. They are attracted to light—a trait easily anthropomorphized as spiritual—and exhibit behaviors both regal (as in the broad and noble “wingspan”) and frivolous (as in the curlicued trailing wake).  Too, they are excellent swimmers, gaining speeds of nearly forty miles per hour on their way to breaking the surface.

This living in two worlds—and adapting perfectly to each one—reminds me that each of us also lives in multiple worlds. We have home lives and work lives, family lives and friendship lives. We wear personas for each, shifting easily (most of the time), moving from metaphorical water to air and back to water.

What does this mean for us as leaders?

It’s easy to develop a profile of those with whom you work, to cast them in bas relief as employee, or team member, or contributor. Such roles are important, providing a sense of definition and the accompanying responsibilities and expectations that come with it. However, it is often too easy to forget that the people we work with are so much more than just that one definition, that each of them, like the flying fish, can leap and dive among roles, can be more than employee, or team member, or contributor.

Each person we manage arrives to work each day, quickly shifting from sea to sky. We lead them through the air, guiding them through eight hours before they slowly shift back to the sea. It’s also worth remembering that each lives a life of more than just one role, and that they bring with them each day the cares, concerns, emotions, and upheavals of all the worlds they inhabit. As leaders, we do well to remember the complexity of each person, noting how they shift, how they participate, and how they live.

And how they fly.

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