Nurturing the Irritant Into a Pearl


What if we saw those who irritate us as the beginning of creativity, collaboration, or even a thing of beauty; a possibility yet to manifest itself with a little time and attention?

Consider the lowly oyster. When an aggravation is presented to its system it creates a lovely pearl, something of great potential and value.

Here is an example of turning someone who irritates you into a valuable leader:

Fernando is responsible for a large organization in a global company. He is one of the best I’ve ever known at creating and nurturing leaders. The leaders at his company work very, very hard, with long hours and lots of stress. He was in need of someone to “mind the store” while he spent a couple of months away from the office for personal reasons.

Luckily, Fernando had done what a good manager should do: he had taken the time and effort to assure that several of his best leaders would be ready to take his place when he needed to be away from the organization; his mind was at rest about work because he knew he could count on one of the leaders he’d nurtured to fill in while he was away. The important thing for him was to decide which team member would be in charge in his absence.

Turning an irritant into a pearl

Fernando chose carefully and wisely. His choice of Ann to lead in his absence was unexpected to many: she was openly critical of Fernando, and they didn’t always see eye to eye. Yet Ann was skilled and ready to fill in. And Fernando had a cultivated smooth running organization. Prior to leaving he had spent time nurturing and coaching the irritant – Ann – to help her to be ready to experience leadership at a different level and with a different view than she had before.

Fernando’s time away was successful in two ways. He was able to take care of his personal situation without worry about what would happen while he was away, and he developed Ann into someone that was more valuable to him and to his organization by letting her take over in his absence. Ann went from being an irritant to a pearl. She became less critical of Fernando, and came to understand the complexity he dealt with. In short, she became his advocate and the relationship was better upon his return. She was ready to lead at the next level in the organization when the time was right.

As a leader, you may find someone on your team irritating. You may try to avoid them. When you do so, nothing happens – and nothing changes. Why not do what the oyster does, and choose to nurture the irritation? With a little time and attention, it may turn into a “pearl”- something ultimately beautiful and of value.

What irritations do you have in your organization that you are ignoring? Do you see the possibility that, with time and attention, they may be nurtured into value for your organization?


I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

8 comments on “Nurturing the Irritant Into a Pearl

  1. Very well written. This different kind of perspective is exactly what should be elaborated on. I am interested in the coaching strategies that could be used on the irritant. Let me know if ASPIRE offers an article on that. 🙂

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. I found it every helpful. 😀

  2. This sentence says it in a nutshell.

    “As a leader, you may find someone on your team irritating. You may try to avoid them. When you do so, nothing happens – and nothing changes.”

    So many leaders simply do not know how to nurture a relationship. Good article.

  3. Dianne, thanks. And I work – as you do, I suspect – to help those leaders who don’t know how to nurture relationships – learn how to do so.

    Daud, thanks for your comments. If you use the search box on my site, you’ll find some posts on coaching. Coaching is coaching – whether it is with someone who irritates you or if it is someone you enjoy.

  4. This is so true! I applaud Fernando. Some of our harshest critics or weakest links on the job can become some of our strongest allies or most effect team members.

  5. This is really interesting – thank you.
    Don’t you feel that almost all acts of creation arise from some incongruity or tension or disagreement, and that “No” can often be a far more productive start to a creative conversation than “Yes”?
    Or perhaps you disagree?

  6. Paul, What a great question. It made me think of the lovely quote from Peter Block, “‘No’ is the beginning of conversation’. How true, and thank you for the profound observation. (For the record, I’d like to say I disagree so we could begin a conversation. But I agree completely!).

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