The Advantage of Strategic Disadvantage

Baby bluebird in our grass wondering what’s next?

The bluebirds emptied their nest, yesterday. Every year we watch the egg to flight ritual. One year we saw the young leave. This year we found one quaking in the grass.


Mother bluebird usually sits on the eggs while father bluebird feeds her and stands guard atop their box-shaped house. Eventually, we hear empty-bellied babies hungrily squawking. Both parents bring food and stand guard. Their commitment, discipline, and loyalty inspire.


Feeding grows nearly frantic till one day mother stands on their slanted roof holding a tasty bug in plain view. Yellow beaks cry out, complaining. Eventual she gives in.

Taking flight:

Both mom and dad feed and guard less and less.

They swoop past their gawking, nest-bound young, providing glimpses of glorious flight. They offer food but don’t give it. They bring sour berries instead of juicy bugs.

They don’t stand atop the house much anymore. They perch, in plain view, about fifty yards away. Eventually, after much complaint and coaxing, former eggs fly. Every year it’s the same.

Disadvantage and distance motivate flight.

In praise of disadvantage:

Ease and comfort are the enemies of growth. On the other hand, strategic disadvantage is advantageous. Make things harder not easier. Uncomfortable challenges provide emerging leaders opportunities to rise up, develop new abilities, and eventually take flight on their own.

Difficulty strengthens.

Emerging leaders:

Welcome difficulties don’t resist. Step out of the nest. You’ll drop toward the ground, bang into things, and ungracefully flap. But eventually, you’ll fly. Trust your gifts.

Leadership development bluebird style:

  1. Create stress.
  2. Provide less expect more.
  3. Stand nearby but don’t hover.
  4. Model behaviors.
  5. Let them struggle. Ungraceful flight is better than no flight.

Advantageous stress:

New opportunities that test skills and challenge abilities create advantageous stress. Baby bluebirds fly because they live in a fly or die world.

How can leaders create disadvantages that help the nest-bound take flight?

When does help become a disadvantage?