In first grade, our teacher, Mrs. Culver would gather us on the floor in the front of the classroom at Sandy Bank school and read stories to us. There’s one I specifically remember, The North Wind and the Sun. I didn’t realize until now when I looked it up that it was an Aesop fable. But I distinctly remember the pictures. It’s short, let me read it:
The North Wind and the Sun had a quarrel about which of them was the stronger. While they were disputing with much heat and bluster, a Traveler passed along the road wrapped in a cloak.
“Let us agree,” said the Sun, “that he is the stronger who can strip that Traveler of his cloak.”
“Very well,” growled the North Wind, and at once sent a cold, howling blast against the Traveler.
With the first gust of wind the ends of the cloak whipped about the Traveler’s body. But he immediately wrapped it closely around him, and the harder the Wind blew, the tighter he held it to him. The North Wind tore angrily at the cloak, but all his efforts were in vain.
Then the Sun began to shine. At first his beams were gentle, and in the pleasant warmth after the bitter cold of the North Wind, the Traveler unfastened his cloak and let it hang loosely from his shoulders. The Sun’s rays grew warmer and warmer. The man took off his cap and mopped his brow. At last he became so heated that he pulled off his cloak, and, to escape the blazing sunshine, threw himself down in the welcome shade of a tree by the roadside.
The moral: Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.
This is one of those lessons that has stuck with me. To effect change, it is better to be the sun than the north wind – getting people to take action by making them want to do so, not by force. It applies in so many places. Think of the American Revolution, when the British wanted to put down the revolt by force, which just increased American resistance. Or World War II, when Hitler thought the bombing of civilians would cow England into submission, but it just strengthened their spine. Best to train your dog with treats, not smacks. And, of course, in the business world. You can force a new system or method down your employees’ throats, but it works much better to get their buy in and have them move ahead of their own volition. Be the sun, not the north wind.