Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a very bright and trustworthy young woman. Having learned all she could in her own village, she set out to explore the neighboring lands. After a time, she came upon a great city surrounded by a huge castle wall. “Surely I can learn something new from the people here,” she thought to herself. But after entering the city, she found its people too frightened and depressed to share any wisdom. “Why is everyone here so sad?” she asked.
One trembling citizen answered, “Today is the day the giant comes.”
“Giant?” she scoffed in disbelief. “There’s no such thing as giants!”
“Oh, but there is,” came a response. “He stands over 10 feet tall! So tall, he can’t rightly be called a man at all.”
Skeptical, but intrigued, the young woman pleaded, “Tell me more of this giant.”
So the frightened citizen nervously explained to her, “Every year, on the same day, and at the same hour, he comes down from the mountain where he lives. He stands at the edge of the clearing and yells, ‘Send out your bravest man for me to fight, or I will knock down these walls and kill everyone inside!’ Each year, one poor valiant soul steps out to face the giant, and there he stands, mesmerized by the giant’s enormity and the impossible task ahead. And every year, the giant slays the poor warrior where he stands before he even has a chance to draw his sword. The warrior doesn’t even move. It’s as if he is hypnotized.”
Eyes wide with fascination, the woman begs, “Can I see this giant?”
“The only way to see the giant,” the citizen explained, “is to face him in battle.”
Still in disbelief but eager to learn, the woman responded, “Then that is what I will do! I will face your giant today.”
Shortly thereafter, at the appointed hour, the giant’s distant but powerful voice was heard over the castle walls, “Send out your bravest man for me to fight, or I will knock down these walls and kill everyone inside!” Unshaken, the young woman stepped out through the castle gate to face her opponent.
She looked out across the clearing to the edge of the forest at the foothills of the mountain. Sure enough, there stood an enormous giant! For a moment, she just stood and stared at him from a distance. There was a gentle rise in the ground separating the two, so she could only see him from the waist up. It was difficult to tell exactly how big he was, but he was clearly taller than any man she had ever seen or heard of. She was struck with the same awe and terror all of her predecessors surely felt at that moment. The giant was real. And facing him today, she would surely die. She considered running back inside the castle walls. But she had given her word to the good people inside to face their giant. So with all the bravery she could muster, she began to walk tentatively toward the giant. And the giant began to walk toward her.
After a few paces up the gentle incline, she gained full line of sight to the giant, and could see his whole form. With this better angle, she could tell he was not nearly the 10 feet in height she first believed, perhaps only 7 feet tall. He was still massive, but at least now in human proportions. She was still no match for him, but at least she would meet her defeat at the hands of something recognizable.
With that element of the unknown removed, she was able to walk at a normal pace. And after a few more steps, the giant appeared to be smaller still. Was this some strange optical illusion? The giant appeared to be not much bigger than she was now. She might actually have a fighting chance! With this new hope, her pace quickened. And with every step, she could tell it was no illusion. The giant was actually shrinking before her very eyes, and the faster she ran, the faster the giant shrank.
Her terror had turned to hope, and now that hope had turned to confidence. Certain of her victory, she was now in an all-out sprint toward the giant. As she reached the middle of the clearing she stopped and stood toe to toe with the giant, who was now only 12 inches tall and still shrinking quickly. She reached down and picked him up in the palm of her hand. She only had time to ask him one question before he shrank down to the size of a grain of sand and blew away in the next gust of wind.
“Who are you?” she asked earnestly.
The giant responded in a tiny and dwindling voice, “I am known by many names. To the Chinese, I am kŏngjù. To the Greeks, I am phobos. But to your people, brave one, I am known simply as. . . fear.”
She had come to this village to learn something. And indeed she had. If you face your fears and confront them with confidence, they will shrink before your very eyes.
Whether facing a giant in battle or simply using the company’s new accounts receivable system, the fear of failure can be debilitating. It can paralyze us and prevent us from even trying. But once you start making honest strides on the task, the size of the challenge begins to shrink. Once we’ve made progress, no matter how little, we earn some small amount of confidence, and the remaining work is diminished. It becomes less daunting with each step.
Even in today’s world, there are still giants. They just take a different form. No matter what the challenge that has people in your organization frightened or intimidated, use this story to help them break the grip of fear and take those first steps.
[You can find this and over 100 other inspiring leadership stories in my book, Lead with a Story.]
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story and Parenting with a Story.
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