Stop Putting Lipstick on the Pig!

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

What did she know?  I was the king of fire and the flickering candle sitting on the glass table mesmerized me.  With cat-like reflexes like playing one of those marble games, I grabbed the candle from the middle of the table and swirled around the wet wax trying to coat the entire glass container in wax.  I still think we had a mini earthquake, but wax came out of the jar and spilled on to the table.  Not just a drop, but what seemed to be the whole jar of wet wax!

My friend didn’t have to say anything – her eyes said it all.  I still don’t understand how one look can express so much – a cross between “did you just do that” and “I told you so”. Her look wasn’t as bad as the thought of what her dad would say when he saw it!

It was bad. I mean it was really bad. There it was – a mountain of liquid wax on their kitchen table! Trying to play it cool like I wasn’t worried about it, I grabbed a few paper towels and began to wipe up the wax. What should have been a quick, effortless fix like those Bounty commercials turned into a disaster! The wax didn’t absorb; instead, it spread across the table and dried up. All over the table!

I took a somewhat small problem, and in the best of intentions, made it worse. In an effort to do something positive, all I did was put lipstick on the pig.

If we measured my heart, it would show that I cared.

If we measured my effort, it would reveal how hard I tried to wipe up that caked on wax.

Doesn’t this seem to happen in our efforts to improve our schools? We have the best of intentions. We set out to do the right thing. So, we address the issue with full focus and effort. We look at the problem and begin to create action plans with flair and heart.

But, if we don’t step back, all we are doing is putting lipstick on a pig. Then, after months of sweat and tears, we step back to admire the work. At first glance, we admire the hard work and effort in putting a band aid on the problem. But, we don’t realize that the problem can’t be solved with “boo-boo bear” and a band aid. All we did was put lipstick on a pig.

What’s worse than that is not realizing that it’s a pig at all. Instead, we not only put lipstick on the pig, but also a full dress with a matching pashmina and parade her around the community for all to see!

So, how do we avoid dressing up the giver of bacon?

Here are three recommendations to avoid putting lipstick on the pig:

  1. Identify the Root Cause(s). Too often, we hold assumptions and beliefs on why a problem exists. Then, we spend a lot of time, money, and energy focusing efforts on things that don’t matter, or have the high yield in return. Instead, leaders need to invest time in gathering a team of various stakeholders, conduct focus groups, survey users, and use root cause analysis tools, such as a fishbone diagram, to identify the true root causes of the issue.
  2. Set Milestones with Checkpoints. In any project planning process, it is crucial to establish checkpoints along the journey to measure progress in both adult implementation and student outcomes.   To often, we set our horizons on the end goal and wait until the end to measure success. It is important to not only set up milestones to determine whether progress is being made on student outcomes but also on the fidelity of adult implementation.
  3. Consider Getting Rid of the Pig Altogether. This one may be the most important consideration of them all. Again, in our best of intentions we tend to think a band aid will fix the problem. But, what if the problem is that the patient has a cold? Instead, the entire focus, training, and action plan shifts to something completely different. Sometimes, leaders try to work inside a broken system that can’t be fixed, so they need to develop an entirely new system to fix the problem.  This takes real leadership to dismantle a broken system and shift the focus to building an entirely new system.  It may come with a lot of frustration, pushback, and sweat, but it may be the only way to truly make positive changes.

As you work with the utmost effort and focus in solving a problem, please step back and question whether you are making true change or are simply putting lipstick on a pig.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog post. Using the lipstick on a pig analogy is genius! In the world of education there are so many layers to the system. I think because it’s multilayered it makes it even more difficult to get to the root cause. I agree that very significant changes need to be made, but I think quick fixes (Band-Aids) are used because the layers seem to work independently. Or… the top layers are so far removed from the bottom they don’t truly understand what needs to be fixed so their decision making is flawed.

    Again, great blog post!

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