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  • Writer's picturePeter McKenzie

Is it better to be the Tortoise or the Hare?

Remember Aesop’s fable? The flash hare with racing talent and speed is challenged to a race by the slow, but dependable and consistent tortoise.

The hare is overconfident and easily distracted. So much so that he decides to have a nap whilst leading the race by a mile. The plodding tortoise steadily keeps moving, overtakes the hare, and crosses the finishing line as the winner.

The moral is that “slow and steady wins”

But is that always a good thing?

The Boss prefers Tortoises

When we take this into a business setting, most managers prefer to hire tortoises over hares. That makes sense.

On one hand, the work gets done. The team keeps going. There is a sense of security. The boss´s demands are always met, no questions asked.

On the other hand, doesn´t that seem a bit boring? Where is the excitement? Where is the flair and innovation in the team?

What happens when something unusual or unexpected occurs? Can a team of tortoises react?

In general, managers don´t want excitement. They want predictability and reliability. No rocking of the boat, please!

In my career, for a long time, I found myself playing the part of the tortoise.

Maybe I am being harsh on myself, but in my view it was my solid work ethic combined with a good old-fashioned slog that saw my progress through various promotions, climbing the “Corporate ladder” over the years.

The problem for me was that I often found myself getting restless. Getting bored.

I always enjoyed the excitement of big projects, even if they meant there was a lot of work to do. I even enjoyed preparing for standard year-end financial closes when everything had to be done quickly and to a higher quality. Something was stimulating about the additional pressure and the need to work tighter as a team.

However, once the most important deadline was achieved, and the crucial project milestone was met, I visibly seemed to lose interest. My energy levels dropped. I didn´t like to tie down the final documentation or paperwork. I wanted to move on to the next project or challenge before closing out the previous one…before the race had finished.

From the beginning of my career in Finance, a criticism leveled at me was that I was not a good closer. I had to force myself to correct this. To complete the race. That is why I adapted.

Without realizing it, I chose the life of a tortoise.

Being a Hare is OK

Then one day I heard a podcast by the writer, Malcolm Gladwell. Interestingly he said that all people were either hares or tortoises. You could be one or the other, but not both.

Hares aren´t great at finishing, they miss details, and they move so quickly that they often make mistakes. They also get bored easily. BUT when stimulated they have energy, they adapt rapidly, they fire out multiple ideas, and thrive in fast-paced, high-pressure environments.

It came to me in a flash.

I was a hare trapped in a tortoise´s body!

I changed my approach to how I worked.

I looked to be ready to perform optimally at key moments, rather than be constantly on the go. I looked to have the energy and strength for shorter bursts of intense energy and speed, followed by periods of rest (like the sleeping hare!).

It means choosing what to do and what NOT to do. To be comfortable leaving some things to others. To feel OK not finishing, knowing that you have made a big difference in the moments that counted.

It means being ok to rely on my teammates to close out. This isn’t laziness or arrogance, it is simply allowing each person to play to their strengths.

For me and my career, it has made a huge difference “coming out” as a hare!

Hares and tortoises need each other

If Aesop´s fable had been about a race between two hares or two tortoises, it wouldn´t have had much appeal!

Although the Corporate world tries to squash people into performance bell curves where everyone is measured equally, the reality isn’t like that. It is important to recognize that people have different strengths, and weaknesses and to look to create teams that bring out the best in everyone by combining their strengths.

As long as hares and tortoises acknowledge the differences between them and respect what each brings to the table, then a mixed team of tortoises and hares is a fantastic place to be.

Reliability, resilience, and execution combined with energy, speed, and innovation.

So, it isn’t better to be a hare or a tortoise. It is more about knowing which one you are and then running your race well.

Are you a hare or a tortoise?

Need help deciding? Then why don´t we have a chat about coaching!

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