What To Do About Your “Ugly Babies”


“If you only focus on the dirt, you’ll never find the treasure.” — Misti Burmeister

“What if I don’t actually care about this guy?” asked Sarah, a senior executive in the entertainment industry. We’d spent nearly an hour of our coaching session discussing how to get one of her employees to care about his own career.

Over the past several months, Sarah had taken the time to learn about his overall career ambitions, which were directly related to the tasks he was working on. Yet, over time, he had repeatedly asked her to lighten his workload.

“This guy is shooting himself in the foot,” Sarah said. “If I take any more tasks off his plate, he won’t have the skills necessary for the position he says he wants.”

“Provoking greatness in others is not easy work,” I said. It’s made even more difficult when you factor in our self-talk (which according to Zig Ziglar’s research, is about 77-percent negative). This is why we need provocative leaders – people who set an inspiring vision, care enough about the mission to hire a talented team, and then care enough about their people to hold them to their higher goals, especially when it gets tough.

So, when Sarah finally asked the question that got to the heart of her problem (“What if I don’t care about this guy?”), I shared the first analogy that popped into my mind – despite the fact it was both a little offensive and perhaps even ridiculous.

“If you gave birth to an ugly baby, would you starve it?” I asked. “Or would you focus on all the adorable parts of the baby and give him lots of love?”

“That’s a terrible analogy,” she retorted. “You can’t compare ugly babies with annoying employees!”

“Why not? They’re practically the same,” I said, hoping to lighten the mood. As she sat quietly thinking about that terrible analogy, I continued, “Whether you like him or not, and whether he’s easy or difficult, is irrelevant. The Universe (or God, or whatever works for you) put him under your leadership, and it’s your job to dig through all the dirt and mine for gold. If you only focus on the dirt, you’ll never find the treasure.”

That’s the thing about leadership. Everyone is loaded with potential. Yet, few leaders are willing to mine for the gold. Do you have to care in order to pull out the brilliance in another? Yes! In fact, if you don’t care, don’t bother! Caring about someone’s success doesn’t require a tremendous amount of time, but it does require a willingness to hold people accountable to what they’re capable of achieving.

As leaders, we have two choices: Buy into that 77-percent negative self-talk, or find the beauty in our ugly babies so we can provoke greatness in them. The choice is yours.

Keeping it simple,

Misti Burmeister,

best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across GenerationsHidden Heroes and Power Suck. Misti on Google+

3 thoughts on “What To Do About Your “Ugly Babies”

  1. Wendy

    Why can’t we, as leaders, have the simple conversation:
    “If you can’t handle this workload, you will not be prepared for the goals you set for yourself”

    Is there a better way to provoke greatness in someone like this .employee?

  2. Pingback: Is There a Difference Between a CEO and a Therapist » Measurable Greatness

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