Leadership Lessons from the Back of the Fridge

I suspect in the back of most refrigerators there is something that shouldn’t be there. You know what I mean – something that is moldy, spoiled or rotten. It might be drooping celery, hamburgers with a white beard or leftovers that are no longer edible.

We all have had the experience of going to the refrigerator and finding something that we knew clearly that no one would ever eat. However, our guilty conscience would not let us throw it out. It’s not yet spoiled enough to throw out, it’s still good food. So we put it back in the fridge until it sits around and gets spoiled enough to throw out without a guilty conscience. We shake our head and say “What a waste!”

Now I am not trying to give any pointers to anyone about their housekeeping. However, I do want to use this experience as a lesson for leadership.

Let’s first look at the psychology of what is happening in the back of the fridge. Feelings, thoughts and beliefs are guiding our behavior – after all you mother always made you eat your vegetables because children were starving in Africa. Decisions are hard to make because our inner thoughts – I feel guilty if I throw it out while it’s still edible even if no one is going to eat it. It’s easier to let the problem take care of itself and therefore not have a decision to make – it’s a shame it got moldy, I had no choice I had to throw it out.

The problem is not only in the back of the fridge. The same psychology is played out everyday in businesses, education, relationships, etc. Think for a minute about the business man that doesn’t want to fire an employee that he knows is not good for his organization. Rather than do what is unpleasant and takes courage to take action on a difficult decision, the business owners lets it play out until he is pushed to a wall and has no choice but to fire the employee. He feels good because there was nothing else he could do. His conscience will no longer bother him.

We all know of people in relationships that could have been saved and worked, but they were pushed to the back of the fridge until they became so spoiled that everyone congratulated the couple on finally ending the relationship.

How many parents have put dealing with issues for their children to the back of the fridge until the kid moved on and the parent says “What else could I have done?”

There are 3 leadership lessons to be learned from the back of the fridge “syndrome”.

1. Re-evaluate your thought and behavior patterns often. As people grow their thought patterns must grow also. However that doesn’t necessarily happen automatically. As small children we are taught not to speak to strangers – it’s dangerous. Parents are only trying to keep the child from harm. If that same child grows up and wants to become a salesperson, he had better do something with that thought pattern or he will have a rough time. Every salesperson must speak to strangers everyday and if the thought pattern is not dealt with he will find it very difficult to find customers.

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