Duck, Duck, Goose

On my morning walk, I pass a small lake where several geese families live. Earlier this spring, the goslings started showing up. Ultimately there were three sets of goslings that came every morning to graze in one of the lawns next to the lake. The first family had three goslings the first time I saw them. Shortly thereafter, another family showed up with three goslings, too. Then later, a third family showed up with five. I have enjoyed watching them.

One day, I noticed that the family with the oldest goslings only had two. A week or two later, I noticed that the family with five, only had four. It is possible that the missing goslings “joined” another family. It seems that goose parents are not very good at counting, and sometimes goslings “switch” families, and no one seems to care. However, it seems more likely that these missing goslings were killed by predators. Unfortunately for geese, predation is a fairly common fact of life.

The thing that impressed me about this situation was the way the geese behaved after the loss. They kept doing what was necessary to survive—eating, moving the goslings around, and teaching them how to swim and forage. They also kept protecting the goslings they still had. I must seem pretty formidable to a goose since I’m considerably larger than they are, and I’m usually wearing orange. Nevertheless, when I walk by, they immediately come at me hissing and bobbing their heads.

I think I can learn something from these geese.

Regardless of how hard we try or how much we work, unforeseen things will happen. Sometimes those things will be unsettling, difficult, or even tragic. When things don’t go the way we planned, we have a choice to make. We can let the thing derail us, or we can do the next right thing.

Do the next right thing.

That sounds simple enough, but it is really hard. I don’t know how geese feel, or if they feel, but watching the geese continuing to care for their remaining young was impressive. They didn’t fall apart or abandon their other responsibilities.

Doing the next right thing means being able to let go of outcomes that are out of our control. The geese can’t get the gosling back, nor can they punish the predator. The loss and pain are real and must be felt and processed. Letting go doesn’t mean ignoring or forgetting; it means releasing—releasing the right to retaliate, or redo, or relive. Releasing is taking the power away from the past so we can focus on the future.

Doing the next right thing means having the humility to ask for help. The geese are always together, several families strong, and every morning when I get close to them, they ALL let me know about it. We will never get through our most difficult times alone. Often, seeing the next right thing in the middle of difficulty requires some other eyes. Letting those eyes help us requires humility.

Doing the next right thing means knowing what is important and where you want to be in the future. The geese have other goslings that need their attention, and if they let down their guard or give up, they lose the future completely. The next right thing takes the future into account. No one has a time machine. We cannot go back and change the past, but we can impact the future, if we want to.

When I was young, we played a game called “Duck, Duck, Goose.” If you’ve never played, it is pretty simple. Everyone sits in a circle facing in. One person gets up and starts around the outside of the circle touching each person on the head and saying, “Duck,” until they say, “Goose.” Then that person jumps up and chases the first person around the circle. If the first person gets to the open space before the “goose” tags them, they get to sit down. Simple.

Life is not simple. Doing the next right thing is hard. Not letting go, not having humility, and not having a vision for your future is like playing “Duck, Duck, Goose” and just chasing yourself around in a circle. As leaders, we have a responsibility to lead our teams through difficulties with tenacity, humility, and vision. We will not always be right, and we are almost never in control, but we must lead. Doing the next right thing always gives us the best future, and it is the Kimray Way.