I’d like to declare 2016 the “Year of the Mole.” No, this is not some new Chinese zodiac animal or a profound desire to hole up for the winter now that I’m living in freezing temperatures. This declaration is my desire to celebrate those who dream, act, attend, practice, learn and perform, regardless of the size of the audience. The mole I’m talking about is one I discovered in David McPhail’s book, “Mole Music.”
Mole lived all alone underground, digging tunnels. In the evenings he would relax and eat dinner in front of the TV, then to bed. He had the feeling something was missing and one night he heard a man on television play the violin, making the most beautiful music. He decided he wanted to make beautiful music too. He sent away for a violin and everyday he checked his mailbox, waiting, until finally after nearly three weeks, it arrived. He picked up the bow and drew it across the strings, but instead of beautiful music, he just made horrible screeching sounds.
The illustrations begin to show the reaction above the ground as the sounds from below the ground waft through. As mole tries again, the birds recoil and fly away and the tree branches sulk with the horrible vibrations. But mole kept at it. He played one note, then another and after a month an entire scale. The birds are then seen flying back and the young sapling standing upright. As mole practiced, the birds are now feeding their baby as a bunny looks on. As years go by, the music continues, the tree grows strong, and mole got better and better.
Mole was happier than he’d ever been, he dug during the day and played music at night and was even better than the man he saw before. He wonders what it would be like to play his music for people. As he plays and wonders, above the ground you see the tree lined with different kinds of birds and the ground surrounded by different kinds of people. As he imagines playing for presidents and queens, he also imagines his music could reach into people’s hearts and melt away their anger and sadness.
As he reaches for his violin that evening there are two warring armies gathering on the hilltops above the mole’s home. They are pointing their weapons at one another, ready to charge. The armies set off on horseback, dust billowing and birds scattering, but as they approached the tree and hear the music, they toss their weapons aside. As mole continues to play, the warring men are seen greeting one another by handshake instead of weapons, embracing one another as mole thinks how silly he is for thinking his music could change the world when no one has ever heard it. “Mole played one more song, then put down his violin and went to sleep. And dreamed beautiful, peaceful dreams.”
This beautifully simple story is about the universal language and power of music, but for leaders, this story can serve as a reminder of the power of listening. Leaders have extraordinary power and responsibility to inspire others, to look for the way forward toward accomplishing goals and objectives. But in addition to looking, mole’s story serves as a reminder about the potential impacts of listening.
In a Harvard Business Review article titled, Three Ways Leaders Can Listen with More Empathy by Christine Riordan, she writes, “Slowing down, engaging with others rather than endlessly debating, taking the time to hear and learn from others, and asking brilliant questions are ultimately the keys to success.” But there are numerous books, articles, and research about this power. So why is it so difficult for many leaders? In part, because listening takes time and the impacts are hard, if not impossible, to measure. We are living in extraordinarily fast paced times and most new leaders want to impact their organization in a positive fashion at breakneck speed in order to demonstrate value. In our era of big data and proven, measurable results, taking time to listen can feel hard to justify. Mole Music is a beautiful reminder that the impact of listening may not always be known or measurable, but the potential impact of listening can be profound, allowing for meaningful change.
Listen for the moles among us, they are there, they are working hard, they are practicing, playing, making music in their own way. If we choose to honor their vibrations, their practice, who knows, the many discordant vibrations of ugliness, cruelty, and callousness might just be interrupted enough so that beautiful vibrations can be heard. At the end of the year a friend sent me a beautiful visual of the many moles among us. Be a leader who values the moles and the music they make.
- Listen to those in your organization, listen to your patrons, your customers, your clients, you constituents, listen to what kind of music is bringing about humility, conciliation, kindness, dignity and reason;
- Find resources for those looking to grow, to learn, to practice;
- Make space for practice, be tolerant of mistakes, of horrible screeching sounds. Allow for correction, protect for correction, give time for each note to be practiced and put together.
- Then stop and listen…
Imagine creating a better world, imagine creating a kinder world, imagine melting away anger and sadness. If you have the power to celebrate the accomplishments of the moles in your midst, then gather an audience and listen, so 2016 can truly be the Year of the Mole.