top of page

What do you really believe about leadership?

You might have a goose stuck in a bottle...

I learned a riddle from author Oliver Burkeman.  He shared it in his recent newsletter and I’m passing it along to you.

It goes like this:

Imagine you have a live goose, trapped in a large glass bottle. (Don’t worry about how or why.)

The goose has plenty of room and air to breathe but the neck of the bottle is much too narrow for the goose to pass through it.  Your job is to remove the goose from the bottle without harming it and without breaking any glass.

Notice your response to this riddle.  Are you inclined to skip ahead to the answer?  Laugh it off as impossible?  Or is your brow already furrowed as you try to engineer a solution?

Here’s the answer:

First, imagine the goose out of the bottle.

That’s it!  No next steps.

Are you annoyed?  

I get it.  But let’s hang in there together and examine what is going on in this riddle.

What actually happened?

You were asked to imagine a goose in a bottle.  There was an imaginary goose, inside of an imaginary bottle.  Then, without realizing it, you applied the physical laws and constraints of the real world to an imaginary scenario.  You believed the rules applied and believed your way into a dead end.

Ugh.  I’ve experienced real life goose-in-a-bottle situations.  The ones where I was so convinced about what was going on, what was possible, and what wasn’t possible that I believed my way into frustration and friction.  

We are run by our beliefs.  They can box us into bottles or set us free.

Just pause to consider, is there any reality you are experiencing - be it money, politics, religion, family, school - that isn’t sourced by belief?

Think about who you’ll vote for this fall and why, think about what you think happens when we die and what that means for life on earth, think about what you believe to be the problems in education. 

In each case you’re sourcing from belief.

Some leaders might believe:

  • Teachers are (or are not) doing the best they can

  • The system is broken and doesn’t work for kids

  • The only way to survive the job is to work long hours

  • The work isn’t sustainable

Beliefs create mindsets.   And mindsets often start to impact how we feel in our work and in our daily lives.

As leaders we are believing many different things.  Some of what we believe leads us to rigidity and stress. Other beliefs lead us to creativity and agility.

That’s why knowing our beliefs is so important.

Consciousness is truly the idea that you are conscious of what you believe.

So what do you believe about leadership? 

(Your actions will show you because they are the manifestation of what you believe.)

Then, notice if your belief is working for you or if it isn't.

Does it work for you to believe that everything is on your shoulders?

Or that there is no one in the system willing to help you?

Or that it’s your job to fix it all?

Once you perhaps realize that some of your beliefs don’t serve you, then you get to start playing with letting the goose out of the bottle. 

Start by asking yourself this,

  • If I suspended my belief, what are ten creative possibilities I can come up with now?

Try it and let me know what you discover.

Your coach in life and leadership,


Ps- Oliver Burkeman is the author of Four Thousand Weeks and his newsletter is The Imperfectionist.  I would summarize his work as a mindful approach to time and our busy lives.  His newsletter is a must read for me.


bottom of page