Beating Expectations: The Tortoise And The Hare

March 7, 2011

By Laurie Clarke, COO, The Tatham Group

Expectations.  We all set them for ourselves and, if you’re like me, fail to meet them as often as we would like.  Why does it seem like they are always set too high or too low?  What makes us underestimate the amount of time it takes to do, change or impact something or someone?

The greatest teacher for me on this subject has been my daughter.  I have never seen expectations shattered so greatly as those set by a parent for their child, either being exceeded or let down.  The competition surrounding new moms is fierce – when did they crawl, walk and talk? When and what was the first word?  How many teeth does he/she have?  Really? The rate of teeth growing matters?  There is enormous pressure on such young beings to fulfill expectations and be faster, brighter, better.  You name it.  I have caught myself a few times engaging in these battles for the best and can’t help but wonder: what difference does it make?  It’s not how a person starts the race but rather how they finish that counts.

The same holds true with organizations.  It’s not how you start a project or begin a journey that matters.  It’s whether or not the people within the organization did their best and if/when they finish, ideally in first place.  Much like Aesop’s fable The Tortoise And The Hare.  We have worked with companies that are both.  If you can’t recall the fable, here are their characteristics.

The Tortoise

The tortoise is unassuming, steady, determined, focused, and unwavering.  He never loses sight of the end goal and isn’t concerned with what his competition is doing.  Rather he strives to do his best and plods along towards the finish line.  He wins the race and gives a slow smile.  The tortoise continues on slowly but surely having won a competition no one expected him to win.

The Hare

The hare is overconfident.  He talks a lot about how he’s going to win, is used to winning and expects nothing less in the race against the tortoise.  He underestimates his opponent and assumes victory without effort.  He starts out with much fanfare and energy only to fizzle at the end.  He loses the race and is both tired and disgraced.

It’s not a hard choice as to who I’d rather be.  Now when the urge to catapult my one-year old into being like a ten year old hits me I borrow some wise words from Aesop.  Slow and steady wins the race.  These are also the words I repeat over and over again to executives, leaders and team members in all of our clients.  What type of company do you work for?  Is it a tortoise or a hare?  Which are you?