Of irritation, pearls and leaders

medium_748081670Did you know that as a leader you could be soft on the inside [oyster] and still produce hard glistening beauty [pearl]? Pearls form in oysters when irritants such as a piece of broken shell becomes embedded in their flesh. The oyster fights back by covering the irritant with nacre, layers of hard deposit from its mantle tissue. With time, these hard layers of nacre grow to form a pearl.

I read a fascinating article the other day on how artificial mabé pearls are produced. There were some interesting parallels to how pearl farming has some similarities to leadership development.

You have to BE PRESENT to spot or identify leadership potential in others and yourself too [TweetMe]. At the onset of the pearl farming process, divers retrieve the oysters about 5 years old from wild stock areas is the first step of creating mabé pearls. Your leadership is what draws people to you and helps them to grant you the permission to develop them. You have to be available. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Theodore Roosevelt

Now that you have some great people to work with, PREPARE THEM for the their new leadership role. They have to be guided, mentored and encouraged throughout the process. In the case of the captured oysters, they were placed in perforated barrels that are taken out to sea and anchored for about two weeks.

To make the oysters feel at home, a spatula is used to remove the oval shellfish gently from the barrel and place them in a warm salty water bath. This relaxes them, makes them easier to work with. It is crucial that your leadership not only inspires others, but it also provides the RIGHT ENVIRONMENT to grow other leaders [TweetMe]“You get the best efforts from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within.” Bob Nelson

With the right environment, the hard work begins. Tough and sometimes irritating moments are bound to crop up every now and then. However, it is important to remain FOCUSED ON THE VISION. For a perfect mabé pearl to be produced, a dome-shaped plastic the size of a one-cent coin is deftly slid deep inside the shell under the mantle tissue. Not comfortable, but highly necessary. “Values are critical guides for making decisions. When in doubt, they cut through the fog like a beacon in the night.” Robert Townsend

As leaders LEARN AND GROW, they constantly have to come back to the vision and plan to ensure that their outcome and ambition are in tandem. You need a place that you can come back to grow, regroup and strategize. There is no need to mentor leaders if you can’t point them in the right direction. The paua oysters are usually returned to the barrels and allowed to grow, eating seaweed and producing coats of lustrous and hard nacre for the market.

When you are gone, it is the leaders you develop that will be YOUR LEGACY [TweetMe]. Paua give their lives as the mabé pearls have to be literally cut from the shell with a diamond saw! The dark paua meat is sold, shells polished and used as backing for the pearls. “A leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organization not as it is, but as it should be.” Jack Welch

What irritants are you experiencing as a leader? How can these irritants be used disruptively to build great leaders?

photo credit: paparutzi via photopin cc


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  1. #1 by FabioPisiVitagliano on October 9, 2013 - 7:31 pm

    I love it. I just share this inspiring post on my FB page; hope it can inspire some of my friends, too

  2. #3 by Joan De Winne (@joandewinne) on October 6, 2013 - 8:28 pm

    I love this compairison between leaders and pearls. Thank you for this inspiring blogpost.

    • #4 by Kimunya Mugo on October 6, 2013 - 8:30 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to visit with me. Glad to be of service…

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