A friend of mine shared, via email, the following story entitled “The Cockroach Theory.” I know many people are freaked out by cockroaches for various reasons, but regardless of your view of them, this story has a very valuable leadership lesson. “At a restaurant, a huge cockroach suddenly flew up from the ground and landed on a lady who immediately started screaming out of fear. With a panic stricken face and trembling voice, she started jumping, with both her hands desperately trying to get rid of the cockroach. Her reaction was contagious, as everyone in her group also got panicky. She finally managed to push the cockroach away but …it landed on another woman in the group. Now, it was her turn to continue the drama. Hearing the commotion, their waiter rushed forward to the rescue. In the relay of throwing the cockroach from lady to lady, it finally landed on the waiter’s shoulder. The waiter stood firm, composed herself and observed the behavior of the cockroach on her shirt. When she was confident enough, she grabbed it with her fingers and threw it out of the restaurant.”
The leadership lesson for all of us within “The Cockroach Theory” is that our actions are more effective when we respond versus react. For years, I was confident that reacting versus responding were the only two ‘choices” we had in our actions and interactions with others. However, during a Sunday Service message, my minister introduced a third and far more powerful alternative – relating that I believe is even more applicable to “The Cockroach Theory.” In order to understand how these principles apply to leadership, let’s examine each one in more detail.
The most common phrase for this type of behavior is “knee jerk.” In other words, it is something that happens out of an unconscious reflex. There is no thought or energy put into the action. In ‘The Cockroach Theory”, the first woman that experienced the encounter with the cockroach set the stage for the rest of her group’s actions. Leaders that react cause undue pain and suffering for themselves and their team members.
Responding on the other hand is not knee jerk or unconscious, it is calm and well thought out. You take time to consciously examine various scenarios in the situation and you choose the best action based on the knowledge that you have. In the story the waiter responded. She realized that she needed to serve her customers and the bet way she knew to do that was to respond in a calm manner. And in responding, not only did she diffuse the fear, she also eliminated the problem by throwing the cockroach out of the restaurant. Leaders that respond prevent drama in their team by dispelling fear and creating positive solutions that eliminate confusion and pain
Relating means you take a 360 degree view of the situation at hand. You look at the issue from the viewpoint of yourself, the others involved and the problem itself. In this story, I believe that the waiter actually related more than responded. She took a moment to gain her composure to create a calm environment and she came up with a solution that took into consideration not just herself and the women, but also the cockroach. Sounds tree-hugging, I know, but she could have killed the cockroach instead of throwing it out of the restaurant. The waiter related to all of the parties involved and made the best choice for the higher good of everyone. Leaders that relate find the best long term solution for everyone on their team.
As a leader of others and your own life, I encourage you adopt “The Cockroach Theory.” The next time you feel a reaction coming on, take a moment to respond and relate to come up with the highest and best solution for everyone involved.
Reflection Question: In your daily interactions with others do you react, respond or relate most frequently? What impact does one method have versus another? Share your answers in the comments section below.