Don’t Kill the Butterfly

I once heard a parable about a man who saw a butterfly cocoon hanging from a branch and noticed that the chrysalis inside was struggling to emerge through a tiny hole. As he watched the struggle, the man felt sorry for the small butterfly and so, in a kind effort to help, he cut the hole a bit larger to make it easier for the butterfly to pass through. When the butterfly still appeared to have trouble navigating its freedom, the man snipped the hole larger several more times until at last the butterfly fell free from the cocoon and landed misshapen and malformed on the ground and quickly died. What the man had not understood was that it is the struggle itself that transforms a caterpillar into a butterfly. By forcing its enlarged body through the tiny hole in its cocoon, fluid in the caterpillar’s body is pushed into the newly formed wings of a full-grown butterfly.  Without the struggle, the butterfly cannot properly develop and therefore perishes before it ever flies into its full potential. This is exactly what happens with coaching.

When we solve people’s problems, supply all the answers, and provide all the resources, we inadvertently rob them of discovering their own power. In an effort to be helpful and ease their struggle, we often clip their wings and keep them from flying to new heights. Sometimes, we just don’t have the patience or don’t want to watch as they struggle to find their own way, gather their own evidence, or finally step into their greatness.

So, does this mean we shouldn’t ever help someone or make suggestions about how they could move forward? Not at all. What it does mean is that leading someone to their own answers and power is always better than solving it for them. It’s the proverbial “give a man a fish or teach him to fish.”  It’s the difference between helping them to feel they have the ruby slippers on or that you are the Oz dispensing all the power and making all the magic happen. It’s moving from manager to leader, from seasoned player to coach.

One way to up your game as a coach is to stop telling and start asking more questions. Here’s a social media post I recently read that was essentially about how to have a great vacation but inadvertently proved my point. See if you notice him reciting how his coach lead him to his own answers rather than giving him the lesson.

I remember a few years ago when I was about to cancel a family trip. I had too much work to do, and the aspiration of that vacation seemed like more of a hindrance than a help.

I was sharing with my coach this temptation to cancel. Wise as he was, he asked, “What’s the intention of this trip?”

“Rejuvenation” I reply.

“How important is rejuvenation to your life and business?”

Not wanting to face the truth, I reply, “Super important”.

He then asks, “How much might you make if you stay home?”

I gave him the number.

“How much MORE might you make this year if you allow yourself to rejuvenate?”

Less reluctant, I said, “Probably a lot more.”

Then he asks, “Then how might you approach this vacation such that it is an actual investment in yourself, so you can make even more money when you get home?”

I think about this conversation every time I’m about to leave for a trip.

“How do I make this time away an INVESTMENT.”

It’s funny to hear people coming back from a vacation when they say, “I need a vacation after my vacation.”


Sometimes we use trips like this as excuses to let ourselves go and make decisions that aren’t great for our body, our soul, or our mind. Don’t get me wrong…I love a good poolside margarita, but if 7 days in a tropical paradise leaves you more tired than when you showed up…you may have missed the mark.

We just got back from 4 days camping in Arkansas with 8 other families, kids everywhere (40-ish people in total). It was amazing. It was chaos. It was memorable.

I answered a few emails and responded to a few texts, but overall, I didn’t take any calls, or let work consume the time.

This has taken years of practice. And I hope it speaks to some of you, like it did me all those years ago.

What’s your “intention” when you’re on vacation?

A good friend or manager gives you the right answers. A great coach leads you to your own amazing answers with a set of thoughtful, leading questions. Sometimes, they drop in a suggestion or something to contemplate, but they are always leading you to figure it out, learn a new set of skills, tap into more expansive creativity, or come to a new awareness. When they do that, you grow and you fly.

“Coaching is taking a player where they can’t take themselves.”

– Jose Mourinho

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