I was struck by today’s thought for the day: “The butterfly gets all of the glory, but it is the caterpillar that does the work.” It took me back to a conversation I once had with a master gardener.

Know that I rarely have conversations with master gardeners, as I am not a gardener. But here I was trying to talk in some intelligent manner on a subject that I was totally inept and uninformed on. Until we hit upon the subject of butterflies, healthcare and leadership.

The master gardener saw that I was no expert in growing plants, but he made the observation that we had more in common than I thought. He observed that I nurture and care for people, and he nurtures and cares for plants.  He then went on to reflect, “Healthcare is going through tremendous transformation. How comfortable are you with the caterpillar?”

I must admit, I was a little taken back that I was being asked to compare healthcare to a caterpillar. But then he said, “You know the caterpillar is far more talented than the butterfly.” He explained how much work and pain the caterpillar went through to transform into the butterfly. It is the skills and abilities of the caterpillar that assures the outcome of the butterfly.  

The caterpillar must execute a plan to assure survival. Through taking in data, the caterpillar finds the perfect food sources and goes to work to ensure that the proper amount of energy and protein is available for transformation.  This tiny little bug is well prepared for the task ahead of them.

In his further studying of the caterpillar he found the following traits:


(Photo: Martie Moore)

Problem Solving
Excellent Listeners and Observers Of Their Environment
Adaptive To Their Environment
Creative Thinkers
Independent and Self-Motivated

As wild as it sounds, he is correct in that caterpillar leadership is what is needed for today’s environment — except it is called transformational leadership.  Many times, we associate transformational leadership with the butterfly. Inspiring, visionary, leading the charge and, yes, at times transformational leadership is just that. But to transform, you must have also done the work of the caterpillar.

You must listen and observer your culture, strategize on adaptation to a rapidly changing environment and align yourself with the right sources to help you transform. You must be creative and assure that your organization has the right amount of energy and resources to do the work of transformation.  Ask yourself: “What type of leadership is needed today? Am I doing the work of the caterpillar or that of the butterfly?” Executing strategy takes both to truly transform.  

Martie Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ, is the chief nursing officer at Medline Industries Inc. and a corporate advisory council member for the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel.