The Value of Swamps

I am fortunate to live near a wonderful regional park. Today I stopped for a hike on my way home. I was enjoying a brisk walk when I came to a boggy area called “The Swamp” on the park map. I hesitated. Did I want to get my shoes that muddy and have to clean them when I got home? Did I want to risk slipping in the slimy black mud? Yes, I did. I carefully picked my way across the swamp, and as I was just about to the safety of dry ground, I heard a loud staccato sound, a cross between tapping and knocking. Human construction-type activity being unlikely in that location, I looked around for a woodpecker. Indeed, a glorious Pileated Woodpecker was just 30′ away, busily working a dead tree for his dinner. I stood silently in the mud, savoring this infrequent sighting of one of my favorite birds, and thinking of the gift that came as a result of my decision to traverse the swamp.

As I walked on, it occurred to me that in leading and managing a business, we often come across “swamps” of one sort or another. Sometimes we have no choice but to go forth and work our way through a difficult situation. But it is the exceptional leaders who voluntarily choose to walk into the messy parts of their organizations to set things right. Today I was reminded that surprising treasures can be found even while we are stepping gingerly through a patch of mud.

Are there any “swamps” in your company that merit your attention?

(A “swamp” can be as simple as your desk or e-mail inbox that needs to be re-organized for efficiency, or as complex as a system that needs to be improved, a relationship with a co-worker that is not what it needs to be, or a part of your organization that is clearly not functioning well.)