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Life and Death Leadership

Is tearing up a bird’s nest an act of cruelty or kindness?

Last year my wife and I noticed a couple of birds flying up to the dryer exhaust vent above the kitchen window. My wife correctly guessed that they were building a nest so I went outside to check it out. After I came back in, my wife asked if I was going to remove the nest. Since that is the way the dryer lint exits the house, a nest could clog it up and possibly become a fire hazard.

We talked about it for a few minutes and then concluded the risks were minimal, so we decided to let the birds build their nest. After a couple of months, their eggs would hatch and the hatchlings would learn to fly. The lint output from the dryer wasn’t that great and I figured it couldn’t do much harm to let them be. Live and let live, right?

Sure enough, after a couple of months or so, we heard the tiny cheeps of the baby birds. Now all we had to do was wait for them to learn to fly and then I could remove the nest. All’s well that ends well.Life and Death Leadership article by Charles Marshall

But the thing I had not accounted for was the dryer vent had a hood which protected it from the rain. That hood would block the baby birds’ flight path. Also, the heat and constant air flow of the dryer would dry out the nest and cause it to fall apart.

The result was that one-by-one the baby birds started dropping onto the patio below. As soon as we saw one fluttering and flopping around on the ground in distress, we placed it back in the nest. But the birds fell out again right away.

It wasn’t very long before the predators also noticed the baby birds on the ground. You wouldn’t think that a turtle would pose much of a threat, would you? Neither would I, but a turtle managed to inflict irreparable damage to one of the tiny birds before we became aware of the situation. When we moved the turtle and examined the bird, it was hard to see the tiny, mangled bird suffering in that much pain.

So I’ll ask you again. Is it a kindness or a cruelty to tear up a bird’s nest when you see it being built in the wrong place?

This year, when we saw the birds flying up to the vent, I took immediate action doing two things. First, I removed every trace of the bird’s nest from the vent and second, I fixed the vent so that the birds can’t get inside.

The whole experience reminded me of a couple of valuable leadership lessons.

1] Being a leader means sometimes having to be the bad guy. If not really being the bad guy, then at least looking like the bad guy. Leaders are responsible for practicing the power of vision, looking down the road, and making the tough decisions that will benefit the whole and keep the organization alive.

2] Bad news never gets better with delay. So if you have to make changes that will upset some people, it’s always better to make those changes sooner rather than later. You aren’t doing anyone any favors by delaying pain. Being a leader means having the courage to reach in and pull out the nest, knowing the birds will be better in the long run.

Leadership is never easy, but especially not in difficult times. Changing dynamics in our economy and society these days means we all have to be prepared to change and adapt. That means being ready to act deliberately for the good of one’s team and organization.

© 2020 Charles Marshall. Charles Marshall is a nationally known humorous motivational speaker and author. Visit his Web site or contact him via e-mail at

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