Monthly Archives: October 2020

Caterpillars and Butterflies

I’d rather be surrounded by a room full of butterflies than a box full of caterpillars.


The second half of my personal mission is to help people achieve their God-given potential.  We recently capped off the Monarch Butterfly migration.  The beauty of thousands of these creatures hang from trees like leaves is a sight to behold.  And to think, all this beauty comes from a worm like creature called a caterpillar hanging from a tree.

People are not unlike caterpillars in this regard.  Caterpillars have potential to become beautiful butterflies.  However, this potential is not realized by every caterpillar.  Some get stuck in the wrong environment; some are devoured by predators, and I suppose some get plucked from their cocoon at the wrong time.  I believe that people, like caterpillars have untapped potential, but not everyone realizes theirs.  And, like caterpillars, I suppose there are a lot of reasons for this.

I could go into many reasons people get stuck in downward spirals or stagnant states, but I can also share numerous stories of resilience that demonstrate that it is not the circumstances, negative life scripts, or even the intentions of abusive predators that determine the outcome of a person’s life. Like caterpillars, resilient people continue to shed the old and reinvent themselves on their journey to flight.

One of the greatest privileges of leadership is helping those you lead achieve their potential.  Here are a few things you might consider as you turn your team into a room full of butterflies.

Look for the butterfly within everyone you lead, then find ways to unleash them to fly.

Begin by seeing their potential, even if they don’t quite see it themselves.  Nearly every successful person I know can tell stories where those leading them encouraged them to rise to challenges beyond what they believed they were capable of at the time.  That encouragement created focus, determination and motivation to give their best, and ultimately to achieve more than they dreamed possible.

Look for the butterfly even within those where it is not so evident.

Some people come to you so beaten and broken by previous experiences that they seem to have lost their motivation, drive and commitment to achieve their potential.  Their wings may not have completely withered, but you can tell that they are not far from the heap of cynical “has beens”.  If you have the time and resources, you may be able to reenergize them again, and in doing so, you may actually see the unfolding of one of the best employees you have ever had.

Consider Jim.  Jim was brilliant in his chosen field.  He was thought of as a subject matter expert and looked to as a problem solver in his area of expertise.  When a senior position opened up he was enraged that he was not selected for the role to which he felt entitled.  He had the credentials.  He had the education.  He had the required expertise.  He had the years of experience.  He looked right on paper.  However, he had not exhibited the kind of leadership his organization required for him to lead a team effectively.  After his exhibited outrage, it would have been easy and justifiable to simply terminate him, but I knew there was a butterfly in him, if we could nurture it to the surface.

His former direct report eventually became his boss.  While he did not have the same high level of education and credentials, he did have the necessary leadership skills to not only lead across the organization, but to unleash the butterfly that we both saw in Jim.   Jim is now happier than he has ever been, doing what he is the very best at.  He is now serving the organization with a servant’s heart, and the organization continues to benefit by his expertise.  He is also actively learning some valuable leadership lessons that will definitely benefit him in future roles.

Remember, every caterpillar is possessed by an internal motivation to become a butterfly.

Every caterpillar wants to be a butterfly.  They have an internal drive to grow and flourish.  They don’t have to be told what to do.  They just have to be in an environment conducive to becoming a butterfly.

Team members with similar qualities rise to challenges, learn everything they can about the business, are driven toward excellence, and are constantly looking for ways to make things better.  What I love so much about leading them is that they are filled with ideas about how to do things better, sometimes more ideas than your organization can embrace, sometimes more than you can afford, and sometimes ideas that your organization is simply not yet ready for.

People like these are not driven by more money, bigger titles, or bigger perks.  What seems to drive them was their desire to be an awesome butterfly.

As leaders of these kinds of team members you have the opportunity to create an environment where they can flourish.  Embrace as many of their ideas as possible.  Ensure that they know that you believe in them.  When their idea will not take you off the rails, consider going with them.  If the idea is problematic, help them explore it further, taking into account your thoughts and the organization’s constraints.

When they run into obstacles, do your best to help remove them so they could make progress toward their goals.  Recognize that some of those obstacles are entrenched in the culture of your organization.  When that’s the case help them understand how to lead change in and through those obstacles, to get small wins that may lead to greater change, until they get traction and momentum.

Recognize and reward them

While these types of employees are not driven by money and status, a leader must know that these things are important even to these highly motivated individuals, and must treat them fairly and pay them appropriately.  Additionally, leaders must talk to these people regularly about their future and commit to helping them achieve those goals.

If you are fortunate you may get to keep these people on your team, or at least on the larger company team.  However, you and I both know that there are not always enough opportunities in your organization for all of your high potential leaders.   Even then, there is great satisfaction in knowing these caterpillars that have become butterflies were once a part of your team.  Most of them will count their experience under your leadership as a highlight of their career.

That’s the thing about butterflies.  They do love to fly, and it is a beautiful sight to behold.