Start Fighting Alligators

New Rule:  Start Fighting Alligators

What does it take to fight the alligators in the swamp or in life?  The following story was told by Patrick O’Neill (Extraordinary Conversations) in a workshop with Angeles Arrien. This story provides six elements of being efficacious and proactive.  Efficacy is one of the highest predictors in teachers who get better student results.  Students and staff who are more proactive and self-directed are better equipped to deal with an uncertain future and provide the flexibility needed to deal effectively with a more intellectually diverse world.

First a Quote:  “Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure.”                     Albert Bandura


The Most Proactive Person in the World

Alicio is the most proactive man in the world. He has a job, working at a resort, to take guests out at night on the Amazon River.  Angeles Arrien and Patrick O’Neill were staying at this resort and decided to go out at night to enjoy the river and be with other guests.

Alicio, and a co-worker took several guests out in the boat at night.  It was very dark because there are no street lights on the Amazon River.  Alicio, who was in the front of the boat, kept shining a searchlight out ahead of the boat.  When asked, what are you looking for, Alicio responded, “two red dots.” People didn’t understand but trusted Alicio as they made their way down the Amazon River.

Finally, as the light shined on the bank of the river, two red dots appeared.  The co-worker shut the motor off and Alicio jumped over the side of the boat.  In amazement, the tourists watched Alicio.  Splash, splash, splash, we can barely see his silhouette and then he was gone.  All of a sudden, the people heard noises and rustling in the brush on the bank.  “We hope Alicio is okay,” said one person.


Splash, splash, splash, we hope that is Alicio.  Soon the tourists could see a silhouette of Alicio.  He has something under his arm.  As Alicio approached the boat we could see he had an alligator that he was bringing back to the boat.  The people got to touch and look at the alligator at a very close range.  After everyone had a chance to touch and see the alligator, Alicio released the alligator back into the river.  Alicio got back in the boat.


Amazed and stunned, the tourists said, “how did you do that?”  Alicio said, that he was the most proactive man in the world.  The tourists ask him, “What does it take to be the most proactive man in the world?”  Alicio said the following six things:


  1. You have to be clear on what is your breakthrough outcome? Be specific and focused. Alligators know what their breakthrough result is, it is dinner.
  2. You have to track and interrupt your own voice of negativity and reactivity. Stop the ‘why am I always the one to get out of the boat to get the alligator?’ Reactivity blocks your own proactivity.
  3. Re-commit to your breakthrough result. Alligators always remember what their goal is. Recommit to do what you said you would do.
  4. Accept personal responsibility. Do what I say I will do. Keep my agreements, commitments, and promises. Be emotionally authentic. Tell the truth without blame or judgment.
  5. Be creative. Take the initiative. Create multiple options. If you try to do things the same old way, alligators will see you coming. Nothing mesmerizes an alligator like creativity.
  6. Learn to move TASK and RELATIONSHIP forward together. If you only focus on the relationship, alligators might like you, but you won’t get them back to the boat.  If you focus only on task, you can get the alligators to the boat, but it won’t be happy.

Thank you to Patrick and Angeles for this story.

This reminds me of a principal who was brought hired to turn around a difficult school situation.  During the first few months, the principal encountered many of the existing problems from staff, students, and community.  The school seemed to be run by power politics at all levels from the adults and the students were left out of decisions that affected them.

Addressing issues from the staff included getting agreement on the essential rules and procedures to operate a functioning school. Everyone was doing their own thing due to the leadership vacuum.  Parents advocated for what was best for their kid, not for the good of everyone’s child.  Getting the parents groups, (magnet programs, athletic boosters, surrounding community, etc.) with defined functions was also paramount.  Creating the balance of input from the community and making tough decisions to balance power was critical for success.  Finally, getting student voice in the conversation by listening, developing student leadership, and making sure all groups were heard, provided hearing from those most affected and getting creative solutions to ongoing problems. An example, they solved a hazing problem in two days.

There were many days this principal went home thinking, what was I thinking when I took this assignment.  Using the six principles from Alicio gave the principal hope, authenticity, and a recommitment to what is important.

Starter Questions:

  1. What alligators are you wrestling?
  2. How do the six tenets Alicio stated relate to your situation?
  3. What are options that might increase your success?

You can have your cake and eat it too, or you can get results without damaging relationships.



Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!