Becoming the leader of the pack

No matter how you look at it, you can never be bored going around town in Addis Abeba or out of town for that matter. There is always something going on that is worth observing and entertaining in its own way. While many of us don’t really see the things around us anymore because it has become part of everyday routine it is worth taking in things a bit more consciously and observe our external environment with a sense of appreciation rather than irritation. I say this because I see more and more people being irritated as they feel they are obstructed to reach their destiny by the very environment they are part of. And instead of being part of the solution, many opt to be part of the problem instead and make matters worse; you know what I mean. Some time ago I agreed with my wife not to allow irritation to overtake our moods but enjoy the moments we are together in the same car as much as we can and discuss issues, we otherwise would have no time for. This has helped us a great deal and confirmed to me again that there is always another way of looking at things as long as you try. Take for instance a group of donkeys that are led into town from the countryside on the way to a market, loaded with sacks of grain or some other goods. Or the herds of cattle that are driven into town on their way to the abattoir just before an important national holiday.

What you typically see is that there are a few animals in front leading the pace and somehow trying to find the way. They are followed by the main pack in the middle while the ranks are closed by the slower ones. Sometimes the entire group comes to a stand still, confused and not knowing where to go next in this entire new environment, while being honked at angrily by other road users. While donkeys seem more organised and disciplined to reach their destiny, cattle more often than not are in a mess. Who wouldn’t, while realising more and more that your destiny begins to smell like blood the closer you get? Sheep are funny to observe as they attend to all kinds of their own business while being whipped around into a certain direction. They may turn around to pick up some green leaf and even find a way to attend to their reproductive rights in the midst of it all. The most interesting I find is the way the animals are led into the direction they should go. This is done by one or more men, herders, who normally run behind and whip the animals that are just in front of them or beat them with a stick. What I find interesting is that whipping the slowest animals in the closing ranks, doesn’t make the ones in front run any faster, neither does it help to lead the way for the ones in front. So occasionally one of the herders must run to the front and push the animals into the right direction. A tiresome job if you ask me and not necessarily the most effective way. I’d put the cattle in a truck instead and reach my destination in a faster and more effective way. At a cost I know, but the animals would arrive in a better condition without making a mess for everybody else on the way. I believe that some time ago a rule was introduced to transport animals into town by truck and not to use certain main roads, but these rules don’t seem to have any effect. We may wonder why but that is material for another article.

Now, what has all this to do with doing business? Well, while observing this chaos unfolding in front of me, I couldn’t help the other day but compare leading a herd of animals into town with leading and managing a company and I guess there are several things we can learn from what we see.

In the fist place, leading from behind and whipping the slowest movers around doesn’t make the frontrunners move any faster or find the direction any better. Leaders should lead the way. They should be in front, oversee the situation, recognise the dangers and the opportunities that present themselves on the way and lead the company through the turbulent business environment of today. Whipping the slowest movers doesn’t help either. Neither does it help to be harsh to workers who are the least productive, perhaps because they are the youngest and still have a lot to learn or they may be weaker than others. Instead, it is advisable to encourage and motivate those that show leadership, talent, and initiative. They will in their turn be able to pull others along and help the company move into the right direction.

It also seems wise to take a break once in a while, regroup, allow for a rest, refresh, and get the noses into the same direction again. Sometimes, in the business of everyday, it is important to reconfirm whether management and workers understand each other and have the same priorities. Have a meeting, a retreat, discuss what is important, and communicate the priorities and decisions made. And after having recovered from an intensive period of hard work, motivate, and encourage workers to push on again and give the best they have. It is essential that workers can take a break, rest, and relax. If you don’t, it is a sure way to demotivate and exhaust the most important asset of any company, the people. They should also be compensated fairly if you want them to concentrate on their task instead of trying to find alternative ways to make their ends meet.

So next time you observe a group of donkeys being led into town, ask yourself, whether you are leading and managing your company or organization in a similar way. Some of us may want to change a thing or two in our management style though and decide to become the frontrunner and be followed by others instead of spending our energy on pushing workers around who don’t really know in what direction they are expected to go in the first place.        

Ton Haverkort

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