Be a Tiger

Excerpt from Executive Director Lora Hodges’ Welcome at the 2017 Responsive Classroom Leadership Conference.

“That response to a vision for all the great possibilities, for a more excellent outcome in the lives of your students, starts with responding to a call of being your truest and highest self.  Of bravely building on past and former successes in order to be successful in responding to changing times, circumstances, and situations.

Which brings me to a story of a tiger who was taken in by a goat farmer shortly after its birth.  The tiger lived with the farmer’s goats and grew to believe that he was a goat.  He behaved like goats, butted heads like goats, ate like goats and thought like a goat.  Every now and then he would feel a burning passion – a yearning in him that he was something different than a goat, but he would hear the familiar bleating and see the fun they all had together as a goat family and then deny the call within him and stick with the plan of being the best goat he could possibly be.

One day while he was out grazing with the rest of the goats a tiger came to the edge of the forest and she roared.  It was a powerful roar that shook the very fabric of the tiger’s being.

It was familiar – native.  It was real and deep.  He knew that sound; it created a vision of who he could be.  But as he looked he saw the rest of the goats running away from the sound and like a good goat he ran with them.  As he was running away from the sound he looked over his shoulder to see that tiger at the edge of the woods, he saw her strength and promise and he desired to know more, but he kept running in the direction of the familiar. That tiger never responded to the call to be a tiger and he lived out his life as a goat – a good goat, the best goat the farmer had; but nevertheless a goat.

Having told this story at least once before (twice, three times…who’s counting), I’ve been asked, who are the goats in this story?  And my answer is — the goats and the tiger are one and the same.  The goats are a metaphor…an analogy.  A symbolic representation of a leader choosing to be unresponsive to the call to do the work that is associated with realizing their best and highest vision.

The goat in this instance, then is standing still, being so influenced by outer pressures to hold on the past successes, that you turn away from future opportunities.  The goats are symbolic of holding so tight to what you know, to finding comfort only with the familiar in a way that interferes with future excellence.  Or the goats could be an analogy of just being good at being the same thing – and running away from taking on the challenge that responding to a vision requires.

In this story, as in leading toward a vision…even good, really can be a barrier to a more excellence way.

Responsive leadership is a journey and sometimes the journey can get bumpy. You will make mistakes and missteps along the way.  You will be misunderstood, misquoted, and misrepresented. You will at times feel uncertain or even have an urge to back away from the vision you are pursuing. It is in those moments, more than any other time that you will decide to either run in the direction of the familiar or to be responsive, to adapt and then quickly run toward the sound of the calling of your vision.

I would say, go ahead, be a tiger; be responsive to the vision of what could be.”