Beware the “Blue” Crabs . . .

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.   – Henry Ford

I heard a story over thirty years ago and it still reverberates inside my mind, especially when I am engaged in a strategy execution consulting assignment.  Here’s the story:

A young man who lived in poverty and the ghetto was determined to climb out of his negative situation and spent all his free time reading, studying and doing homework.  His neighbourhood friends thought he was a bit odd and teased him endlessly.

One day he went to his grandfather in tears, telling him about his dreams to be somebody, to get out of the ghetto. He also told him about the teasing.

His grandfather told him the following true story.  “When I was a young boy I went to the open air seafood market and in one stall I noticed a shallow bowl of live crabs.  I was concerned that the crabs, who were very active, would climb out and the stall keeper would lose his profits.  So I brought it to his attention that he needed to put a cover on the bowl.  The stall keeper smiled and said, ‘Don’t worry, young man.  You see, those are Blue crabs, as soon as one tries to climb out, the others grab on and pull him back down!’

And that’s the way it is in life, my son, as soon as one of us tries to climb out of the ghetto, the others pull him back down, because if one makes it out, there is no excuse for the others.”

An executive strategy retreat is a very interesting event, with much skepticism going in and when done well a great deal of optimism and enthusiasm on the final day when the strategy comes together.  The logic is sound, the market studies robust and the strategy seems to fly off the page as if it were a team of wild horses ready to bolt across the horizon.

But, not too long after the workshop the reality of execution begins to sink in and some people become concerned, insecure and even frightened at all the work required to move the new strategy forward.  And that’s when the “Blue” Crabs appear! One or two senior executives begin to “wonder out loud” about the veracity of the strategy and suddenly come up with numerous logical and well-reasoned arguments why we should go slow, or have a rethink, or make a few changes in the steep objectives in the original plans.  Then more “blue crabs” grab hold and start pulling the strategy apart and dragging down those who have begun to execute and implement their respective action items.

All strategies are hard to implement!  It’s up to the CEO to keep everyone’s eye on the prize and not on the obstacles.  Difficult, yes; impossible, no.  Not if  the team works together, shares information and resources, and everything is transparent.  Hidden problems are the hardest to solves, but those that are transparent tend to attract solutions!

Understand the “blue crabs” for what they represent, insecurity and fear.  Then redouble your efforts and focus on execution, execution, execution.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E |      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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