Leaders: Sometimes There Aren’t Enough Rocks

Being a child of the 60’s I love the movie “Forrest Gump”. It was on cable recently, cycling through the home spun wisdom of the south and reflecting on the troubling times of the age.

FORREST GUMP, Robin Wright, Tom Hanks, 1994

There are many classic scenes throughout the movie. There is one that touches me every time I see it. Forrest and Jenny are walking through the countryside and come upon her childhood home. At first she gazes, then stares. She steps slowly toward the old, ramshackle house that once was a home. Paint is dried an peeling. Windows are broken. The roof sags. It’s obviously not lived in for quite some time.

Slowly Jenny’s stare turns to anger. She bends over, picks up some rocks, and begins hurling them at the house. Her frenzy intensifies.

Forrest is stunned, not knowing what to do. Jenny finally connects with a fast ball through one of the windows. Glass shatters. She tumbles to the ground sobbing. For sure this house was NOT a home to her. There had been too many disturbing memories. By her own admission her life was a mess. Now we seem to know why.

As she sobs, Forrest quietly and slowly bends over, first a crouch, then he takes a seat in the mud beside Jenny. In the narrative voice you hear him say “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”

Let’s talk about rocks and leadership.

Anger can be like that.

A burning hurt or disappointment can fester over the years. Unresolved issues boil into contempt and rage. Have you ever worked for someone who seems to be right on the edge with such emotion? It’s not a pretty picture.

As managers and leaders, we run out of rocks before we start. I contend you cannot be willing to throw even the first rock.

He who throws the first rock usually loses.

No, leaders must refrain from letting emotional turmoil boil over. Any issues you might be handling must be dealt with in more subtle, but hopefully, effective ways.

Your team doesn’t deserve the outburst. To be an effective leader, you must be seen as more even tempered. Though things may be swirling around you, the heat of battle cannot trigger other, unrelated matters that might cause some rock throwing.

Oh, it’s easy

Wanting to throw a few rocks seems easy. A rock is small but hard. It makes a great projectile when launched with the right velocity. Here’s the problem. Most of us don’t throw that well. I mean that figuratively.

Even when launching a tirade intended for one someone or some thing, the message might be misguided. If it lands off the mark, you certainly may cause collateral damage.

You might be furious at Steve, but spew something that hits Sally. Steve feels fortunate to have been missed, but Sally is now upset. Steve knows it was intended for him, so he starts running scared. It’s a mess that can only spiral further downward.

Managers and leaders have to do much better. There just cannot be any ‘rock throwing’.

Effective Leadership needs a throttle

To be a good leader you have to have a throttle mechanism. Let’s face it, the heat of battle can fray your nerves. Pressures mount and you have to vent somehow. A well disciplined leader knows NOT to vent in the direction of the troops. Your people never deserve that.

While you might have occasion to sit everyone down and have a stern talk about performance, direction, or momentum, the message should never feel like you are throwing rocks.

I started this piece by saying ‘sometimes there aren’t enough rocks’. In leadership, there shouldn’t be ANY rocks.

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