No… I have not actually tried this myself!

I’m on a pseudo vacation this week – and it's glorious. I’m back home in Massachusetts, spending time with my soon to be born grandson, his beautiful momma (my daughter Annie), my siblings and their families.  

I’m also doing on-site work with some of my East Coast clients. Which brings me to one of my favorite anecdotes – the boiling frog story.


This is the story of a small, successful business that has been operating for dozens of years. Their brand is well known and respected. The presenting problem is that in today’s highly competitive digital world, decisions have to made more quickly, opportunities have to be responded to promptly, and employees on the front line have to be more empowered, proactive, collaborative and flexible. These skills are all critical for competitive advantage in a world where even the most loyal clients are inundated with promises of better pricing and better service from on-line vendors.


Like many long established companies, they’ve advanced business processes with digital innovation and stayed extremely competitive. But the threats are real and constant. And staff, especially longer-term staff, are resistant to see the need to change how they do business.

  So where do boiling frogs come in? If you don’t know the boiling frog story, it goes like this. If you put a frog directly into a pot of boiling water, they immediately recognize it as unpleasant and life threatening, so they jump out. But if you put a frog in room temperature water and slowly turn up the heat, they stay in the water until eventually they boil to death. (And this is also where the “No, I have not actually tried this myself” comes in.)

  The leader in this particular example is exhausted. She is burnt out on making the case to her team for change. She has given up on holding people accountable and instead is jumping in to fill in the gaps. She spends hours being frustrated about what is not happening and not understanding why the team doesn’t get it. The one person on her team who does get it feels disempowered. Instead of moving the team forward, she has resorted to venting and complaining – another drain on the leader.  

In typical fashion, the leader’s question to me is “how do I get them to change?” And now it is my job to help the tired, resentful leader see that she is the frog who isn’t jumping out the pot. By her actions, and inaction, she is the one making it comfortable for all the frogs to stay despite the heat rising.  

Is this a sustainable model? Yes, but it depends on what your goals are. Do you want your business to grow and thrive? Do you want your team to be flexible, collaborative and proactive? Do you want them to be proactive about changes? Do you want them to have your back so you can be doing what you do best? If so, then a bunch of frogs cooking away is not the model for you.  

Here are some primary symptoms that tell me the heat has been rising:   -Leaders drop hints and hope staff will change. -Weekly meetings have stopped because staff says they are too busy. -No one has seen an organizational chart in years. -Managers are appointed by seniority, not skills required. -The leader does many tasks because “It is just faster to do it myself”. -New hires struggle to fit within the culture and often don’t last long, or worse take on the habits modeled by others.  

boiling frogsSo how do we reverse this? I share some simple steps to start with here.

First, help the leader understand that they control the temperature gauge. They get to turn off the heat. How? By getting clear on:   -The “why” of the company. Why do they do what they do? How does what they do improve the lives of the customer, the community and the world?   -Creating an organizational structure that supports the leader to do what they are best at and what the company most needs to grow.'   -How much time are they spending inspiring, motivating, empowering, providing resources and holding their team accountable versus micro managing and doing tasks?   -How recently has the organization’s handbook, policies and procedures and operating norms been reviewed, updated and discussed organization wide?   -How are performance evaluations done (if they are)? The once per year model is no longer effective in a rapidly changing business world. This includes the importance of communicating progress frequently both casually and formally.   Second, teach leaders and managers how to quickly give feedback and hold people accountable. Most small businesses believe they don’t have time for leadership and communication training, coaching and mentoring. This belief keeps my business viable because I get called in when things are so off track they can’t avoid it any longer. With a few workshops and some on going coaching, people learn the skills and increase their ability to give clear, timely, empathetic and non-emotional communication that keeps the business moving forward.  

“How do I get them to change?” is the question leaders ask me right away. It is always the same answer for me. “Sorry, but you are the one who needs to change.”  

As the leader or the manager, you have control of the temperature gauge. I will teach you how to use it. It isn’t easy, but it is simple. You determine if your staff is a pot full of boiling frogs or if they are collaborative, flexible, innovative, empowered and most of all have your back.  

Do you see yourself or your business in these examples? I am sharing tools and teaching skills to support clear, proactive, thriving businesses. Check out our upcoming workshops.