Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Too Much of a Good Thing

Growing up in the Philadelphia area and going to college in Indiana was a bit of a challenge around certain holidays when I was a young man. For example, I could take an all night bus back home for Thanksgiving with the family but given how short the break was and how long the ride, by the time I returned back to college I knew I was going to be pretty exhausted and burned out from all of the travel which was not a good way to go into the last couple of weeks of classes and final exams.

So one year, I decided to stay on campus and find some place local to celebrate. Having friends who were older and lived off campus, myself plus others decided to gather at their house and make a huge Thanksgiving feast. Everyone helped out and we had all of the traditional food. There was turkey, stuffing,  mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, candied yams with the little marshmallows on top, cranberry sauce, rolls, butter, etc.

On the day of the big event while the turkey was resting and then being carved, my college friend, Ian, and I got corralled into making the gravy. We had both watched our mothers do this so it did not seem like it was going to be too hard.  

We started by collecting all of the pan juices left over from the baking of the turkey and straining off the fat. Then, we sauteed some mushrooms in butter in a big frying pan. Once they were the right color, we add the drippings and began to stir as it bubbled. We stirred and stirred and it did not turn into gravy. We were stumped and those who were carving the turkey wanted us to hurry up.

Next, we add a little white flour and we got the right color but it was not coming together like good gravy. Then, we remembered that our mothers tended to add cornstarch to thicken the gravy. So, we found a box in the kitchen cabinet and put some in. Sure enough, it started to thicken.

With the color being right and the “gravy” bubbling away in the pan, plus with ample encouragement to hurry up from the people now carrying the turkey to the table, we added some more corn starch to the gravy so that it would get thick quicker. Our reasoning was simple. The more you add, the faster it will thicken. We did not take into account that we were cooking the gravy and in the process causing some of it to evaporate.  

Once, it was thick enough, we rushed around to find a gravy boat to put it in. However, we were college students and this was off campus housing rather than some one’s childhood home. Being resourceful, we found a big bowl and poured our very thick gravel into it. Proudly we carried the gravy to the table.

After prayers were said by all, the food was passed around. Plates were piled high and then the gravy was sent around. The only problem was that it had continued to cook through the prayers plus cool a bit. Furthermore, Ian and I had added so much cornstarch and flour that the gravy had seized up into one solid block. There was no pouring. The only solution was to slice the gravy and serve it. It did not taste like Mom had made it back home, but we were hungry college students so we ate everything nevertheless.

There are days when we as leaders have to remember that too much of a good thing can at times be just too much. For example, I recently have noticed that some people are going overboard on their coaching.  They think that if once a week coaching sessions are good, then multiple times a week would be better. While this might be a good idea in a few rare situations, the best thing to do in most situations is to coach people and then to let them practice. They have to apply what they have learned in their coaching session and then learn from the application process. Too much coaching, like too much cornstarch in the gravy, can cause a person to seize up and not think clearly. We forget sometimes that one of the goals of coaching is accelerated learning and helping someone to think clearly through their choices plus end up making the right ones.

During the coming thirty days, post Thanksgiving, just remember too much of a good thing does not always generate something better. A light touch always makes a better gravy. Same with people, too.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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