One way to get high blood pressure is to go mountain climbing over molehills.
~ Earl Wilson
Most of us are familiar with the idiom, “making a mountain out of a molehill,” used to describe a situation in which something of relatively little consequence is blown out of proportion. This phrase is often used as an admonition–something to the effect of “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” Good advice for those of us, like myself, who frequently play the “what if” game–worrying about things that we can’t control, and in fact, events that may never happen. While the idiom is meaningful, I now prefer to consider it from a much different perspective. Allow me to explain.
A few years ago, I was driving home from work and I pulled up to a stoplight. In front of me was a pick-up with a bumper sticker displayed in the back window–“Making Molehills out of Mountains.” The message was simple, but it made a powerful impression on me–perhaps because I personally struggle with fear and worry. For me, the simple transposition of two words changes the original idiom from one of avoidance to one of action. Upon careful reflection, it occurred to me that this phrase, in many respects, is what leadership is all about. Good leaders work tirelessly to make objectives achievable. It is not about the leader reaching a seemingly insurmountable goal, it is about their ability to convince others that the challenge is not insurmountable.
Sometimes, making molehills involves talking others down–convincing them that their situation is not as dire as they might believe. Effective leaders use logic and reason to help others identify what is within their power to control and they aid in the discovery of practical problem solving strategies so that resources can be utilized effectively. Examples of this type of “molehill leadership” include a teacher working with a student–in the face of overwhelming odds–to identify a specific plan for academic improvement, a principal allaying a parent’s concerns about their child, or a student assisting a peer who is stressed and struggling to feel connected at school.
In other situations, making molehills involves talking others up–convincing them that they have the ability to meet, and successfully overcome legitimate challenges. In this respect, leaders have many of the same responsibilities (using reason and logic), but they also serve as a “cheerleader”–providing a certain degree of safety–and they work to convince others that a task/project is within their power to achieve. The assistant principal who encourages a teacher to go out on a limb and integrate a new technology tool, the teacher who helps a student overcome a fear of public speaking and the student who applauds a friend during a competition are all utilizing this aspect of “molehill leadership.”
The key to effectively utilizing “molehill leadership” is taking at least a few moments to think reflectively about situations and determine which strategy to implement–reduce the perceived size of the problem, increase the confidence level of the parties involved, or a combination. This is not to say that this process is easy. In fact, I have to constantly remind myself to maintain perspective–a little “molehill self-talk” if you will.
Our effectiveness as leaders depends upon our ability to empower others and ultimately enhance their leadership skills. To this end, will you spend your time creating obstacles, or making molehills?