Are You Ignoring the Canary’s Call to Exit the Coal Mine?

“You are either growing or dying.” 


I’m sure you’ve heard this quote or some variation before. 


But how do you know which one applies to you? 


Your weeks are filled with metric dashboards, performance updates, and executive summaries. You’re surround by data that analyzes your team’s performance. 


But what about your numbers? 


How do you measure your growth? 


Before you say, “It’s reflected in my performance review,” stop. Most companies get those wrong. 


Recently I was driving home from a Sales and Marketing Advisory Council meeting at James Madison University’s College of Business when the song “Canary in a Coal Mine” by the band The Police came on the 1st Wave.  radio.


First to fall over when the atmosphere is less than perfect

Your sensibilities are shaken by the slightest defect

You live your life like a canary in a coal mine

You get so dizzy even walking in a straight line



The song took me back to my days as a Vice President of Sales. The company I worked for was going through a difficult period and I told my team, in essence, “I’m here and committed. If I leave, then you can worry. I’m your canary in a coal mine.” 


I knew when I said those words that eventually they would boomerang back to me.


Sure enough, they did. Two years later, I decided to leave corporate and start my executive and team coaching and consulting firm. When I finally told my team of my decision to leave the company, one of my district managers asked me about my canary comment.


I responded that there was nothing to worry about and that I had faith in them and their products. What I said was true, but it wasn’t the truth. In hindsight, I would give my response a C+.


The truth was that the canary had been chirping at me for close to two years. It was warning me, but I wasn’t ready to listen. I believed it would be disloyal to leave my team and the company I called home for 18 years. So, instead of heeding the warning of the chirping canary, I put my head down, got stuff done, and told myself that my philosophical misalignment with the company would resolve itself in time.


I refused to hear the warning chirps because I was too deep into my corporate metrics, dashboards, and power point presentations. 

Yes, staying the course at the company for as long as I did was stressful; however, on the flip side it was also safe and it kept my inner critic satisfied.

The truth is, the status quo had become my coal mine.

Fortunately, its chirping finally became so loud that I couldn’t ignore it. I had no choice but to listen to my little canary and spring out of my comfort zone. 

What’s the lesson? Well to start, without awareness and acceptance, growth is difficult — if not impossible. Growth is hard. And it’s risky. Humans are hard wired to seek safety, which makes our comfort zones seem so cozy. But if you stay safe and cozy in the gaseous coal mine for too long, the consequences get ugly, fast.  

So how does your canary show up as a warning of impending danger in your life? What’s your personal metric dashboard that alerts you that it’s time to shift gears and level-up? 

Here’s the deal: It’s hard to see and hear every warning sign by yourself. But, that’s why you have a team at work. Right? Team members give you a chance to look at your opportunities and address your challenges through several lenses. Teams help you create better solutions.

Your tribe matters.

Looking back now, I can see that the changes that were made to the corporation’s structure and culture were my own personal canary. The chirping was an alarm that it was time for me to exit my own personal coal mine. It was a warning to stop listening to my inner critic who insisted that staying in my corporate job was the smartest path for me. 

Tweet, tweet.

Do you allow your inner critic, groupthink, or a lack of awareness mute your own, personal Tweety Bird?

The good news is, your canary is probably not warning you about impending doom and gloom on the horizon. For most people, this would be a hyperbolic case. However, your canary is probably trying to tell you to level-up. To get out your comfort zone, stop regretting missed opportunities, or blindly following others. 

True success comes when you boldly, courageous embrace the leader within you. 

One of the best ways to become the leader you were meant to be is to strengthen your flock, tribe, or peloton. I know first hand the value of a strong tribe. That’s why I’m partnering with fellow coach and professional athlete Dayne Gingrich. The launch of our new mastermind is focused on strengthening your tribe and helping you heed the call of your canary when it starts chirping; that’s clear sign it’s time to sprint out of your comfort zone.  

Gaseous coal mines and stale comfort zones have one thing in common: They both are dangerous to your overall health. 

If you hear your canary’s call and you’re interested in learning more about our One Percent Mastermind Set, click the words “One Percent” and complete our quick survey. 

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