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Whose Feather Are You Flying With?

As a leader, there is one fact you can?t deny: you are in your position partly because other people helped you, with their talents, skills or resources, to achieve your vision.

Emmett Smith, the Dallas Cowboys? running back who broke records and will one day join the elite NFL Hall of Fame Club, took the time when he retired to recognize 187 people who provided him with the ?feathers? to be a star in football.

This reminded me of an African folktale that talks of a time when all birds were invited for a feast by some animals who lived in a kingdom above the sky. The birds called a meeting to discuss their trip and how to present their culture appropriately. They needed a leader who had a reputation for quick thinking and good communication skills.

As they brainstormed ideas on who that leader could be, a cunning tortoise, who happened to be eating leaves in the nearby bushes, overheard their predicament. The tortoise persuaded the birds to have him as their leader since, as he put it, ?he knew the culture of their would-be host.?

The birds knew of the tortoise?s ability to communicate and they agreed unanimously. However, there was a problem. Their chosen leader couldn?t fly. After consultations the tortoise and all the birds came up with a brilliant strategy. Each bird would donate a feather for the tortoise. This was done hurriedly and all the feathers were glued on the tortoise?s body. He was couched on how to fly during all weather conditions and in any terrain.

The big day came and all the birds flew with their leader to the kingdom above the sky. When the arrived, the tortoise stood at the center of the front row and exchanged salutations with their hosts? leader.

When asked, by their host, how they would want to be served, the tortoise said that a leader should be served first. The birds watched in disbelief as their leader ceremoniously ate surrounded by their hosts. After he was full, the tortoise told the hosts that now the birds could eat. The birds refused to eat and each plucked its feather from the tortoise.

The tortoise didn?t have any means of flying home. He pleaded with the birds to have his family put pillows and other soft items outside for him to land on, but they refused. Finally, a small bird said he would convey that message. That bird rushed to the tortoise?s family and told them that tortoise was on his way and that he wanted to land on hard, metallic items. The family did as requested. The tortoise landed on the hard items and broke his body to pieces, explaining why his skin is in puzzle form and why he has to hide his face in shame for what he did.

The feather someone provided you with, maybe advice, actions that brought your vision to fruition, encouragement, a job opportunity, material resources, or an environment for you to reach new heights. Remember, without each of the ?feathers? that you needed, you probably wouldn?t be where you are. Special appreciation is what makes people give you more of what you need to learn and grow in your professional and personal endeavors.

Here are key practices to show appreciation for those who have helped you to get where you are:

1. Public Recognition: Use Emmett Smith style. He even recognized his pee-wee football coach.

2. Make his/her day in a special way: Christmas cards are better than nothing. But most people get tons of them and few stand out. What about sending a hand written note on Mother?s or Father?s Day? Highlight how that person?s feather positively affected your life. You will make their day?something money cannot buy.

3. Make them larger: Contribute a gift in their honor to a non-profit program that they believe in. Let the recipient of the gift notify the person in whose honor you made the contribution.

4. Visits/phone calls/email: Visit or call that person from time to time. Your visits, phone calls or emails, especially during that person?s most vulnerable times (during divorce, sickness, grief or downsizing) will connect with their innermost being and give them hope to believe in a better tomorrow.

5. Let your actions speak: Show how their ?feather? improved your life.

6. Pass a feather to someone else: there probably is no better appreciation for the ?feathers? we have received than giving those we live and work with a ?feather? to fly on. It is also probably the only assurance that we will be flying tomorrow.

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