Friday Fable: Aesop’s “THE BULL AND THE MOUSE”*

Posted by jlubans on January 04, 2013

“A bull was bitten by a mouse. Smarting from the sting, the bull began to chase the mouse but the mouse was too quick for him and managed to hide in the depths of his mouse hole. The bull came to a halt and dug his horns into the walls until finally he sank down in exhaustion and went to sleep right there in front of the hole. The mouse peeped out from inside his hole, crept up on the bull, bit him again, and ran back inside his hole. The bull leaped to his feet but he had no idea what to do. 'It's not always the big one who has the power,' said the mouse, 'in some cases being humble and small is a strength!'”
Tom & Jerry, Road Runner & Coyote, David & Goliath, Figaro & the Count – the list goes on - suggest there’s no end of appeal for stories about the lowly taking it to the mighty.
And so it can be in the workplace. Long after Aesop crafted his fables, Chester Barnard, proposed his astonishing (for 1938) bottom-up theory-that “management has only as much authority or power as subordinates are wiling to accept and to the extent they consent to comply with directives”. Indeed, the put-upon employee can withhold his best ideas or her best effort. If pushed hard enough employees can sabotage the boss.
The wise leader works with rather than over her followers. That’s easily said, not so easily done. I have been part of large change efforts and while we, the executives, were well intentioned, we failed to include staff in our decision-making. This failure was far more than a political one. More importantly, it was a failure to use available resources. Good staff can have very good ideas.
There are numerous ways to include staff long before a decision is made. Genuine inclusion, however, does have its risks. The staff’s best idea may not be your idea. Indeed, you may believe that what the staff proposes is wrong. What do you do? Impose your will or go with the wisdom of the group? Many bosses avoid that dilemma by pretending to include staff. This sleight-of-hand is quickly spotted by change opponents and turmoil results. You may have to abandon or compromise your change efforts – at considerable expense and vast inefficiency.
I recommend genuinely including staff long before decisions are made. The results can be highly positive for leaders, the organization, and the staff.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

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