14 May 2009 • 12:04 pm

The Tenacity of the Tortoise

Leaders seeking performance improvement are often unrealistic about the capacity for change in their organization. Each change initiative is undertaken with urgency. Tangible results are elusive. Patience runs thin. Good intentions are thwarted by impatience.

Members of their organization know the tune, and are tired of the dance. Why change, when last year’s initiatives have been abandoned? Apathy and cynicism are widespread. Leaders are seen as lacking the determination and the patience to stay with a good program long enough to see results.

One of the greatest challenges in counseling leaders is to gain their buy-in for the long haul. “I like everything about your plan except the part about going slow!” said one memorable client, and I was quickly reminded of Aesop’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare:


One day a hare saw a tortoise walking slowly along and began to laugh and mock him. The hare challenged the tortoise to a race and the tortoise accepted. They agreed on a route and started off the race. The hare shot ahead and ran briskly for some time. Then seeing that he was far ahead of the tortoise, he thought he’d sit under a tree for some time and relax before continuing the race. He sat under the tree and soon fell asleep. The tortoise, plodding on, overtook him and finished the race. The hare woke up and realized that he had lost the race. The moral, stated at the end of the fable, is, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

The tortoise was an easy choice to symbolize the necessary work of change in every organization. The tortoise is not about slowness. He is all about patience, determination, clarity of purpose and goal, focus, strength, wisdom, longevity (some are known to have lived over 200 years), and success (many species date back to before the dinosaurs), a bit of stubbornness; in short, tenacity.

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