Updated: Aug 30, 2022
“A good egg is an egg that hatches.” – Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Life is Worth Living.
Many years ago, a few days after the successful defense of my doctoral thesis, one of my professional mentors was congratulating me on the many years of hard work that brought me to that point. It went something like this:
“Congratulations, you have achieved something truly rare and important. However, you need to know that earning a Ph.D. is kind of like receiving your plumber’s license. You now have the right credential, but you haven’t yet proved that you can do anything useful with it.”
I was thinking, “Aww… come on! Give me a least a week to savor the win here…” But no. He was right and it was what I needed to hear.
Whether in the spiritual life, like the good archbishop is discussing above, as a leader, or in the evolution of an organization’s mission and culture – being a “good egg” means you are prepared to no longer be an egg. You’re ready to move on to the next stage.
Conversely, a “bad egg” is one that doesn’t hatch. And eggs that don’t hatch, in time, become rotten eggs. The same goes for development as a leader or a company.
There’s also a middle option. The middle option reminds me of a cartoon from when I was a kid. There’s a baby chick that’s fully developed, but it just doesn’t want to leave the security of the egg. So, the chick pokes it legs out of the bottom of the egg and runs around blindly trying to be both an egg and a chicken at the same time. Hijinks ensue, but ultimately the little chick is forced to take a risk and fully enter the world beyond its egg.
In the end, there’s only two options: stagnation and death or growth and life.
In some ways, we are always an egg. This is the part of ourselves as leaders, or of our organization, that is humming with potential but not yet born. As anyone that has a basic knowledge of chickens or other fowl knows, there’s a few things that every egg needs in order to become a beautiful bird.
A broody mentor or community: We rarely, almost never really, have within ourselves alone everything we need to evolve. We need the help of others. The potential is there, just like there’s potential in every egg. However, the egg needs someone or a flock of someones, to take an interest in it and do the long, patient, sometimes grueling work of sitting on the egg and generally stewarding it until it's ready to join the rest of the birds. In a flock of chickens, not every egg-layer makes a good “broody” hen. Sometimes there’s just one or two in a flock of many that care enough about the eggs. Sometimes there's a slightly larger group that shares in the work of egg sitting and care. The important thing is this – it needs to be someone’s vocation.
The good news for human eggs is that we don’t need to passively wait for someone to sit on us. We can and should be purposeful in finding mentors and learning communities that will nurture and push us along.
Often, the help of a coach or mentor from outside your particular coop can make all the difference. Also, as organizational leaders, one thing we should have learned by now about the “great resignation” is that if a good egg finds itself in a company that doesn’t care about eggs – they’re gonna bail. Who, how, when, and where is your organization incubating the next generation of people and taking care of good eggs?
Safety and protection: A good rooster isn’t there just to get busy and look pretty. His job is also to put it all on the line when needed to protect the flock. Senior leaders have this responsibility in a way that not everyone else in the organization does. What do you and your fellow eggs need in order to develop in relative safety?
Development itself brings enough inherent risks – allowing coyotes to prowl the coop unchallenged doesn’t help.
Good learning and development requires purposeful risk-taking, which paradoxically requires a certain amount of safety. Getting that mix right, and knowing how and when to chase off scary things with big teeth, is the responsibility of leadership. Own it.
Heat: There’s very little change in the universe that happens without heat and a release of energy. Warmth is required by an egg not just to prevent it from freezing, but to set in motion a fantastic array of processes that turn a soupy mix of snotty fluid into a majestic creature that can soar over mountains – or in the case my chickens, poop on absolutely everything I own. But regardless, change needs heat! In the human landscape, you get heat from two primary sources – pressure and support.
We need the patient warmth of an other’s care for us, as well as the steady formative heat that comes from an application of developmental pressure.
Human “eggs” need to get the message that “we are here for you” and “we will do this with you”, but also that “you are going to bust out that shell”, because “this is an organization for good eggs, and good eggs hatch.”
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