Leadership Lessons From the Flea Circus

When I stumbled across a post on Root Inc. (www.rootinc.com) titled, "Leadership Lessons From the Flea Circus," I was intrigued and wanted to learn more.

I have been to many flea markets. I know for a fact that you don't buy fleas at a flea market.

But I never knew about the history of flea circuses. What constituted a flea circus? What was the difference between a regular circus and a flea circus?

Unlike the difference between a market and flea market, a flea circus was actually a circus of fleas. It was often a side show of a regular circus. Flea circuses were popular in the mid to late 1800's. Flea circuses began as a way for watchmakers and jewelers to showcase their handiwork. They would use their skills to fabricate miniature objects such as chariots, ferris wheels and other items. They would then use fleas to pull or manipulate those objects.

Here's where the tie in to leadership comes in. Fleas can jump very high — around 50 times their height! That's the equivalent to a 6-foot tall person jumping 300 feet! Greg Napert and I hiked up to Panamint City, a ghost town that used to be a thriving mining city in Death Valley. It was a 10-mile hike with a 3,900 elevation gain. It took us about eight hours to reach Panamint City. If we had the jumping ability of fleas, we could have umped to Panamint City in 13 leaps!

How did the flea circus trainers keep the fleas from just jumping out of the circus enclosure? They conditioned them to jump lower. They did this by putting them in a glass container with a lid secured on top. The space from the bottom to the top of the jar was small. When the fleas were first placed in the jar, they would jump  — continuously slamming into the lid. Eventually, the fleas would stop jumping high — they were conditioned to only jump short hops to avoid hitting the lid. The trainers would then take the jar lid off and the fleas wouldn't jump high enough to escape the jar.

It seems like sometimes leaders put their employees in that "glass jar." Workers are placed in situations that limit their growth. Instead of encouraging them to jump as high as they can, those leaders stifle employee growth which leads to a lack of job satisfaction.

In the competitive job market we are in, can we afford to decrease productivity by limiting employee growth and having dissatisfied workers? Are we doing everything we can to empower our workers to be the best they can be? 

You can read the full article at https://www.rootinc.com/leadershiplessonsfromthefleacircus/.

Thanks for reading!

Joe Escobar


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Joe Escobar (jescobar@dommagazine.com)
Editorial Director

Greg Napert (gnapert@dommagazine.com)
Publisher, Sales & Marketing

Bob Graf (bgraf@dommagazine.com)
Director of Business, Sales & Marketing