By: Amanda Cox
The Tortoise and The Hare, one of Aesop’s Fables, is a well known story about a race of two unequal partners. The moral of the original story has been interpreted a myriad of ways over the centuries, adapted throughout time to reflect society’s changing values.
In some versions the steady tortoise is praised for his courage in taking on an over-confident fool. The story was even politicized at one time, adding a rather morbid scene in which the tortoise, after winning the race, is selected to alert the forest animals that a fire was consuming the land. Highlighting the perspective that slow and steady doesn’t always win the race. There are versions in which the hare is depicted as the instigating bully. In others, the tortoise, sick of hearing the hare’s boasting, suggested the race to humiliate the hare in his folly.
If this grand old story has been used in such varying ways throughout time, it’s fair game to take my own spin on it and pull out the leadership lesson hidden within.
My childhood impression of the story originates from the 1934 Disney cartoon. The tortoise, a bumbling buffoon, doggedly runs despite being mocked by the onlookers for his obvious inferiority. The hare is portrayed as a boastful, overconfident show off. But, what grabs my attention isn’t so much how they ran their individual races, but how they finished. Despite the vastly different personalities, they finished neck and neck. (Although the tortoise did win by a hair 😉)
Might I suggest the lesson isn’t found by pointing out the superior racer? They both ran. They both finished. Rather than critiquing the weaknesses of each, I’m more interested in their individual strengths.
I’m definitely a tortoise kind of girl. I’m slow, steady, and if I set my mind to something it’s a done deal. Even if I finish last. I’m quiet and methodical in my thinking. Quite frankly, it leaves me feeling a little mentally slow in social situations. It takes me a while to process conversation, and I usually have something really insightful to add….the day after the conversation. I don’t commit to things quickly, and I have a propensity for underestimating my abilities.
My best friend is a hare. He is quick and confident. A great conversationalist. A charismatic risk taker. He tends to pile his plate high with commitments, probably because he knows that if something isn’t chasing him, like a deadline or the next commitment, he doesn’t feel the drive to run.
The two of us sat down together to play a strategy game with friends. Our first attempt at The Settlers of Catan. Can I just confess I was inwardly groaning? I’m not a strategy game kind of person. It stretches my one-step-at-a-time method of operation beyond its normal limits. After all, the key to great strategy is thinking at least three steps ahead.
Talking strategy is my best friend’s love language. Before the game was even fully explained, he was wheeling and dealing!
I looked at my cards, thinking, “Wait. What am I supposed to do with these things, again?” With two experienced players across from me and my strategy ace friend to my left, I definitely had that tortoise vibe going.
Still, I found my little angle to work as I stumbled along. My friend was a little annoyed I didn’t partner with him in his dealings. It wasn’t personal. Unsure of myself, I was overwhelmed by his quickly flowing words and his understanding of things I was still processing. To keep making progress I had to stick with my method in the one area I understood.
For all his big strategy, flair and finesse, and my bumbling along slow and confused, guess where we both ended up…
…with the same number of points.
Some of us leaders move quick and take risks with starts and stops along the way. Others of us are slow and steady, but might miss out on opportunities because we’re not ready to jump into a challenge.
Your style of leadership doesn’t have to look like the person next to you in order for you to find success.
A hare is fast, bold, and a fan favorite. They’re great at displaying their abilities and getting a crowd excited about what they are about to do. They know their strengths and are proud of them. Is the hare a bad leader because they need a worthy opponent motivating them to grow, improve and push forward? Not if they are aware of their needs as a leader. If you’re a hare, surround yourself with colleagues and peers who challenge and push you. Find people to cheer you onward.
A tortoise needs to thoughtfully choose their direction. And maybe be (kindly) goaded into taking that challenge. Once they start, the tortoise presses onward even if they’re certain they’re not equal to the task. Even if they fall hopelessly behind the pack. In this fast paced life, a tortoise seems at a disadvantage. But the glory of a tortoise isn’t in speed and flash, it’s in the refusal to quit. If you’re a tortoise, find an area to become an expert, grow in confidence, and don’t give up even if the other racers are flying past. Have a hare as a sidekick to nudge you into taking that first step.
Whether you are a tortoise, a hare, or somewhere in between, know the race God has given you. Know the type of runner he has created you to be, and run that race.
Like Paul, in 2 Timothy 4:7, when all is said and done, be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”
There’s no greater prize than that.