Don't forget the turtles!


Years ago when my elder son was a boy scout, he used to participate in an annual race called the Pinewood Derby. It was a competitive event, where each boy scout (with the help of his father) would have to make a car out of a block of wood and race it on a sloping track. Like most kids, my eldest started out wanting to win the race, only for his car to finish in last place. At the end of that event, my son got a turtle for an award to signify that his was the slowest car. While I felt bad for him receiving such an award, my son enjoyed it, and he brought home the turtle with great pride. As a matter of fact, for the next 3 years, he actively went out of his way to make sure that he made the slowest car in the race. He wanted that turtle award every year (and he managed to get it too!).

The reason I recite this story is that in the real world we often forget the role the “turtles” play. The weak links in our organizations are often cut – this is the law of capitalism – survival of the fittest. Jack Welch, arguably one of the greatest CEOs of modern times, propagated that we replace the bottom 10% of our workforce every year. I beg to differ from that philosophy. And I base this viewpoint from experience. When people in leadership positions take a viewpoint that it is their obligation to coach the “underperformers” something very powerful begins to take place. Its almost like a force comes into play. I am not sure if there is a name for this phenomena but when leaders become coaches, and take a conscious decision to lend a hand to those that are not performing to expectations, its purely magical. The teamwork, the spirit and the culture of the organization all suddenly fall into place and growth becomes a by-product of a healthy, functioning organization.

While there is clearly a positive spin for an organization in lending a hand to those that need it, there is a greater motivation to do so than just the raw benefits of capitalism. It really quite simple: picture the boy who always gets bullied on the playground or the girl that gets always gets excluded from the fun stuff. When faced with such situations, it becomes our moral duty to help those that are excluded; to make our children appreciate their differences and have an approach that is all-inclusive. And in doing so, we move the world ahead, step by step, child by child. The turtles have a role to play and I believe we should never forget them. On the contrary, we should appreciate them.

The world is nevertheless a cruel place and the turtles often get the raw end of the stick. At the Pinewood Derby at my son’s school, the turtle prize was eventually stopped, as one child who received it took it very badly. We obviously had created an environment for him to feel that it was wrong to receive such a prize. That was wrong. We all make mistakes but the next time we come across a situation where a turtle is being excluded, try giving him/her a few encouraging words and I will be surprised if the result isn’t magical!

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