Duck Hunting


One of the Habitudes I included in Book Three of our series is an image called: Duck Hunting. It illustrates one of the most important truths leaders must embrace.

I want you to imagine something. Pretend you have a friend who just returned from a hunting trip. It was his very first duck hunt. He was excited when he left for the trip, knowing how much fun others had bagging ducks on this big lake. He bought all the gear and was ready for the time of his life. As he walked through the door upon returning home, you smile and ask, “Well—how was the hunt?”

He doesn’t smile back. Something has obviously gone wrong. “The day was terrible,” he muses, proceeding to slump in a chair and pout. Assuming he didn’t get any ducks at all, you ask if he missed every shot he took. “Oh no—I actually got twelve ducks. See, here they are,” he said, immediately producing a bag of twelve beautiful ducks. Now, you’re just plain confused. When you bring up his apparent success with these twelve, he looks up and responds, “Well, sure, I got twelve ducks. But . . . hundreds of them got away!”

While this imaginary story seems far-fetched, there is a point to it. It’s obvious to anyone who has spent the day crouching in a duck blind, that you don’t have to get all the ducks to have a good hunt. Unlike the elk hunter, who reminisces about the elk he missed, a returning duck hunter focuses on what he got. Because let’s face it, with just one gun and hundreds of ducks flying away, you’re bound to miss plenty of them. In other words, a good duck hunter might miss dozens of ducks and still bag the limit! But if he keeps whining about the ones that got away, he won’t—he can’t—last long in this sport.

Going after a duck is a deliberate act. So is leading people. Good leaders know their target. As a leader, you need to lead those who respond. No leader gets all the “ducks.” You can’t focus on the “missed ducks.” There will always be those that got away. There will always be people who criticize you, or don’t like you, or didn’t vote for you, or refuse to cooperate with you. Whether you’re the president of the student body on campus or the president of a corporation, you need to keep your eye on the people who respond. Those are the “ducks” you bag and you must deliberately invest in them.

I have taught this principle at multiple conferences already, and I usually learn something each time I do. I recently had a duck hunter come up to me after my session and talk with me about his duck hunting experience. “If you focus on all the ducks,” he said, “you won’t hit any of them.” Maybe you will accidentally hit one or two, but it’s all chance. In duck hunting, you are aiming at a moving target. You don’t focus on the ducks that are hiding. You watch for the duck that is flying in plain sight and focus on that one. Similarly, leaders cannot go after everyone. They must know precisely who they want to “catch” and target them.

This is one of my favorite principles. Why? Because I had to learn it the hard way. When I first was put in a leadership position, I was a people pleaser. I wanted everyone to like me. I thought I had to win everybody to “my side.” If somebody came to me with a complaint, I immediately made a program change. I literally tried to please everyone, but realized the hard way, that wasn’t realistic. No leader will ever please every person. Some may never “get with your program.” And that’s OK. Some may get upset with you, even hurt your feelings, but your job is to concentrate on those who respond to your invitation to go on the journey. Leaders must learn to live with “missed ducks.” They must learn to celebrate the ones they get!

This principle is not about ignoring those who don’t follow you. It’s about challenging everyone to go on the journey with you—but investing in those who do. This principle isn’t an excuse to have a tiny influence, or to ignore the masses or those who disagree with you. Even big rallies are the result of small networks that succeeded. The point, however, is that pouring into a core group actually increases your chances to move the masses. Leaders learn to overlook “missed ducks,” knowing the few “committed ones” make the hunt successful.

Quality leadership has never been about a popularity contest.

How are you doing with your ducks?

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Duck Hunting