“They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with this idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them. And the catfish would keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. They keep you on your toes. They keep you guessin’. They keep you thinkin’. They keep you fresh. And I thank God for the catfish, because we would be dull and boring if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin.” – Vince Pierce, from the movie Catfish
Everyone needs catfish, ones who keep you agile.
Workplace catfish can be blunt, even annoying. They ask questions that rub our noses in the one reality we would rather ignore. They raise important questions that we would never think to ask in the first place. Catfish will suggest the impossible and annoy you into pursuing the impossible, because you, too, finally realized it was important. Catfish are always there nipping at your fins, which keeps you working, thinking, swimming against strong currents.
Catfish aren’t always the leaders of the organization, but they get to the leaders in a way no else can. They are always the testers of leadership, and ideas, and commitment, and cause. In fact, sometimes they live and work at the fringes of workplace culture. If there is an “in crowd”, catfish may or may not be in it. But catfish are vital to keeping both people and ideas alive and viable during long, difficult organizational voyages.
The question is, as a leader, are you a catfish or a cod?
Who are the catfish in your organization? If you don’t think you have any, maybe it’s time you threw a few catfish into the tank. Let’s face it, if you don’t have someone nipping at your fin you’re likely becoming a rather dull and boring leader.