From Spills to Success: a Story of Fluent Leadership and Growth

You've probably heard the saying, "Don't cry over spilt milk." It’s a poignant reminder not to get overly upset about or dwell on past mistakes or mishaps.

In this blog post, we will explore a different story about spilt milk; a story about a mother and her child, who accidentally spills milk on the floor.

You may be wondering how this aligns with fluent leadership and nurturing growth. In essence, it is a story about effectiveness in many forms; effective communication, effective relationships and effective (positive) leadership!

It is all about 'Being in Charge" postively and effectively so that others and you yourself are able to grow and thrive. Whether you are a parent, a leader of a team/organisation/business, a teacher, a mentor, a coach, a therapist . . .

This story teaches us to be present in the moment and in every role in which we have a social responsibilty for others.
We will explore this story of positivity and effective leadership and discover how it aligns with Functional Fluency.
This story - taken from  Jack Canfield's book 'The Success Principles' -, is about a famous research scientist who had made several very important medical breakthroughs. He was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter who asked him why he thought he was able to be so much more creative than the average person. He responded that, in his opinion, it all came from an experience with his mother that occurred when he was about two years old.
He had been trying to remove a bottle of milk from the refrigerator when he lost his grip on the slippery bottle and it fell, spilling its contents all over the kitchen floor—a veritable sea of milk!

When his mother came into the kitchen, instead of yelling at him, giving him a lecture, or punishing him, she said, “Robert, what a great and wonderful mess you have made! I have rarely seen such a huge puddle of milk. Well, the damage has already been done. Would you like to get down and play in the milk for a few minutes before we clean it up?”

Indeed, he did. After a few minutes, his mother said, “You know, Robert, whenever you make a mess like this, eventually you have to clean it up and restore everything to its proper order. So, how would you like to do that? We could use a sponge, a towel, or a mop. Which do you prefer?” He chose the sponge and together they cleaned up the spilled milk.

His mother then said, “You know, what we have here is a failed experiment in how to effectively carry a big milk bottle with two tiny hands. Let’s go out in the back yard and fill the bottle with water and see if you can discover a way to carry it without dropping it.” The little boy learned that if he grasped the bottle at the top near the lip with both hands, he could carry it without dropping it. What a wonderful lesson!

The renowned scientist remarked that it was at that moment that he knew he didn’t need to be afraid to make mistakes. Instead, he learned that mistakes were just opportunities for learning something new, which is, after all, what scientific experiments are all about. Even if the experiment “doesn’t work,” we usually learn something valuable from it.
There is a profound lesson arising from the way in which the boy's mother chooses to respond to him and because of this the little boy is able to learn a lot from this accident - much more than how to get a bottle out of the fridge without dropping it.
In the Functional Fluency model, created by Dr Susannah Temple, there are nine different modes of behaviour that depict whether we are automatically reacting or consciously choosing to respond to various situations.

The ‘Purple Pitfalls’ as referred to, are automatic reactions and are usually ineffective. When we use these types of behaviour only one person, or often nobody, benefits, and therefore we end up wasting energy on ineffective behaviour.  When we learn to make conscious choices and use one or a combination of the ‘Golden’ effective behaviours, everyone benefits, it’s a ‘win, win’ for all.

In this story, things could have turned out very differently if the mother had used different behaviousr such as one or more of the ‘purple pitfalls’ – ‘Dominating’, ‘Immature’ or ‘Marshmallowing’, punishing him and/or shouting at him for the mess, and/or letting him know that in future he should leave it up to her to take the bottle out of the fridge to pour him a cup of milk.

These are all reactive behaviours. Instead she chooses to respond and not react, and the result, as you have read, was effective and positive.
When we are under stress or pressure, or things don’t go our way, or how we expected or planned, it can be easy to shout, issue blame, find fault, take over, instil fear and punish, or, even go into ‘panic’ mode. These are all forms of ineffective behaviour. Nobody benefits from this kind of behaviour. 

In "spilt milk situations" with ineffective behavioural reactions from people who are 'in charge', most of us would likely feel scared, threatened, anxious and useless, and unlikely to ever try to take initiative and express oursleves in our own unique way again.

When as leaders we react in this way, we prevent growth and damage self-esteem and confidence. We are sending a message of ‘not being good enough’ and ‘inadequacy’ to others (and possibly also to ourselves).

It also damages trust.

It is important to remember that reactions invite reactions. We can either (unwittingly) slip into reactive behaviour or choose (consciously) to respond.

Very often, people we have a responsibility for feel they are not able to make a choice because of our own ineffective leadership behaviours. They are therefore likely to learn that ineffective behaviour demonstrated by the leader is acceptable behaviour. 
In this 'Spilt milk" story, the mother AKA the leader responds in an extremely effective way. She utilises all five of the ‘Golden modes’ of effective behaviour.

Can you guess how and when she used these modes?
Let's explore how the mother (the leader) uses effective behaviour to create a positive from this unexpected messy situation:
1.    Firstly, she uses her Accounting mode to determine what is really going on, and assesses the facts at hand without judgement or blame. The child had dropped the milk. It was an accident, it was not intentional. The milk had spilled on the floor. Nobody was injured. There was no real damage, just a mess which could easily be cleaned up.
2.    Secondly, she uses Nurturing behaviour and empathy to understand that the boy was just trying to be independent. Instead of creating fear and anxiety, she creats a supportive environment where the boy feels safe to experiment, practice, learn and grow.
3.    She uses her Spontaneous mode to invite the child to have fun. She embraces the unexpected turn of events as a chance to think outside the box, turning it into a light-hearted moment to boost the boys’ morale. The mess was already made, so why not make the most of the situation and have a play around before cleaning up?!
4.    She uses Structuring behaviour to clarify the boys’ expectations – he  can have fun, but he must also clean up afterwards. She also demonstrates guidance and direction when it came to an approach to cleaning up the spilled milk and creating space for the boy to learn how to carry the bottle without dropping it.
5.    She also shows Cooperative behaviour – adjusting herself to the unexpected situation, offering to clean up the mess together and finding a solution with her son as to how he can safely carry the milk in the future, modelling him in a friendly way how one can easily bounce back after a mishap.
By applying the modes of Functional Fluency to this story, we can see how each behaviour offers a different perspective and response to the spilt milk incident. Instead of dwelling on the mistake, scolding the boy, or allowing it to overshadow his and her day, the mother chooses a more constructive and growth-oriented approach.
By incorporating the behavioural modes of Functional Fluency into our lives, we can 'be in charge' and lead effectively, and we can approach setbacks and mistakes with grace and resilience, and with the purpose to nurture and unleash potential.

Let's strive to embrace the wisdom of the 'Spilt milk' story and focus on the present moment, empowering ourselves to make conscious choices and empowering others to grow.
Remember, when life spills some milk, let's choose to clean it up, learn from it and move forward with a positive growth mindset!

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