Management Lesson

A turkey was chatting with a bull. ‘I would love to get to the top of that tree’, sighed the turkey, ‘but I haven’t got the energy’. ‘Well, why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings?’ replied the bull, ‘they are packed with nutrients’. The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the first branch of the tree. The next day, after eating more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally, after a fortnight, there he was, proudly perched at the top of the tree. He was promptly spotted by a farmer who shot him clean off his perch, out of the tree, into a heap on the ground.

And the management lesson in this rural tale? B***s**t may get you to the top of the tree, but it won’t keep you there.

I read this anecdote to a few managers recently and asked them to list, off the top of their heads, what attributes a manager or business owner needed to keep them at the ‘top of the tree’. Surprisingly, avoiding the country environment ranked highly with all participants, followed by the following observations, offered in no particular order:

Skills and abilities are seen as the cornerstones upon which other attributes sit. Bluffing about one’s abilities may be fine for a while however, with the fullness of time, all (deficiencies) shall (eventually) be revealed. While people are tolerant of learning on the job or specific up-skilling, continuous fudging and bluffing, without progress, is a no-no. More attractive traits to possess include personal energy and motivation. As it’s more energising and pleasant to be around those with positive energy than those with barely a flicker of life, the right amount of ‘oomph’ can also inspire others to lift their own game.

To maximise chances for success, excellent people management skills are equally important as technical and other know-how. Given that employees are the most valuable business asset, the ability to relate well, manage people appropriately and value others, is critical. Coupled with all of this, is the need for excellent interpersonal skills, an obvious loyalty to the business and the ability to view issues and situations from the big perspective and the smaller, separate-parts perspective.

A touch of rhino hide is an essential accessory in order to take the set backs, the frustrations, the highs and assorted lows associated with being in a management role. Rhino hide, with built-in cushioning, should enable one to spring back from setbacks, without too much personal damage. Flexibility is an attractive quality, so that one can keep moving forward when beset with delays, unexpected events, changing situations. It’s the ability to bend over backwards, forwards and sideways, as needed. Just so one isn’t overwhelmed by all that cardiovascular exercise, a sense of fun and enjoyment is needed too. Given all the hours one spends at work, it makes good sense to enjoy the work, the colleagues, the whole enchilada. Having fun and helping to create it in the workplace is generally appreciated by colleagues and gives ‘lift’ to the atmosphere.

All joy and no work can be problematic, so balance is needed. Evenness is needed between one’s working and personal life. Too much of one without the other isn’t a good scenario, therefore, self care is critical so that the rigors of work can be offset by rest and regeneration. Self care strategies contribute to maintaining sustainable levels of energy and enthusiasm. Implemented daily , they can help to ward off burnout, exhaustion and loss of perspective. Leading by example is valued, especially so if the example set is positive, professional, has integrity and inspires colleagues to greatness. Doing what you say you’re going to do, a.k.a. walk the talk, is vital, so that trust can be developed and leadership is implemented in everyday practical ways. Generosity of spirit is required – the ability to acknowledge others’ efforts, share information and offer assistance and support. So to, is the ability to coach employees to contribute to organisational success, and be the best that they can personally be.

One can do everything possible to be the best manager or business owner ever – reading all the books, going to all the courses, developing all possible skills, practising until nearly perfect Sometimes though, it just isn’t enough to save job loss through downsizing and events which aren’t about someone’s ability to do a job. An element of luck is needed too, to avoid being in the wrong place, the wrong position, at the wrong time.

Being a manager or business owner requires commitment and energy – to oneself, to one’s business, employees and colleagues. Given the range of attributes needed to keep one at the top of the tree, how many could you personally identify for yourself or your management team? And if you want to get to the top by your own merits, what do you need to do?

First Published NZBusiness October 2002

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