The Eagle In The Chicken Coop: When Your Career Meets A Silent Plateau

A revered Chief Nursing Officer leading a 168-bed medical center in New Mexico is well known for her fierce coaching and leadership where she maintains optimal employee retention. She is also well known for using farm idioms and expressions believed to have originated during the late 1800 American land runs. Land runs that opened homestead opportunities to settlers traveling West, and most notably Oklahoma.  

The Chief had her beginnings on a dairy farm in Eastern South Dakota where she labored until her fingers peeled from frostbite, until the sun rose twice before she slept, and until every barn floor was scrubbed clean and made suitable enough for a picnic.

You will never hear this Chief say “time is money,” “let me jump on this call,” and “I’ll schedule after I wrap up.”  

Instead, this Chief will notice you, approach you, pause, and relate to you with humor, sarcasm, and a rare combination of blue-collar grit and authority. Her most popular expressions include “you can’t turn a chicken into an eagle,” “education is never free,” and “you’re no spring chicken.”

You will leave her office feeling you had spent the day rusting like a knife because, in part, you simply did not work hard enough. You will also leave and return to a proud environment where your directors and colleagues encourage and inspire you to remain passionate to achieve your best.

On the other hand, is your goal to reach your best every minute, every day? Perhaps you’re not seeking the “best,” but rather you expect to reach your next post, your next milestone on time, every time.  

Perhaps you dwell on your weaknesses and silence your strengths when you plateau and stop reaching your milestones. Your milestones may include a management promotion, optimizing your sales, achieving market income for your qualifications, or looking forward to accepting an award in front of your colleagues at the next company banquet. 

Marshall Rosenberg, PhD. and Founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication, an International Organization active in over 65 countries around the globe drove his mission on commanding principals. One of those principals holds that our human values are driven by the motivation to ensure our needs are met. Rosenberg’s mission “reveals the awareness that all human beings are trying to honor universal values and needs, every minute, every day.” (

Rosenberg further expressed how one common universal human need is to improve and grow.  In our careers, it is common practice that more professionals than not silence their strengths, starve their professional needs, and remain still because they choose to stop harnessing and driving their strengths upward.

Why?  We can list excuses.  

For a mass group, however, the answer may be far simpler. Perhaps these professionals are simply eagles living in a chicken coop. 

The Chief who still tells me, “you can’t turn a chicken into an eagle, so best to smile and move on,” is better known to me as my mother. Under her direction, I was raised and encouraged to work fiercely and seek out competition. I was raised where a cold dose of reality was our daily routine and where bleeding hard work, taking risks, and reaching success by working independently swayed somewhere between encouraged and required.  

Still, and like many in my class, there are months and even years when it seems I have pressed myself into a chicken coop.  

I suppose the remedy is as simple as the problem. Leave the coop, work through your plateau, gain your voice, and build the largest nest of any North American bird.  

As for the Chief, the Chinese might call her my “tiger mother.” 

Kristin MillerComment