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The Lion and the Mouse

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As the fable goes:

A lion lay asleep in the forest, his great head resting on his paws.  A timid little mouse came upon him unexpectedly, and in her fright and haste to get away, ran across the lion’s nose.  Woken from his nap, the lion laid his huge paw angrily on the tiny creature to kill her.

“Spare me!” begged the poor mouse. “Please let me go and someday I will surely repay you.”

The lion was so amused at the idea of the little mouse being able to help the King of Beasts, that he lifted his paw and let her go.

Some weeks later, the lion was caught in a net.  The hunters, who desired to carry the lion alive to their King, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a wagon to carry him.

Just then the little mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the lion’s sad plight, went up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes of the net, freeing the lion.

“You have helped me and now I have returned the favor.  Was I not right – even a mouse can help a lion!” said the little mouse.

The morals:

  • No good deed, however, small is ever wasted.
  • Don’t forget:  even the smallest friend is worthwhile!
  • All employees are important even the lowest staff can add value.

Management Perspective: According to Noonan, he began his career in the mail room of a company and in 30 years worked his way up to becoming a vice president. But it was in the mail room, not the boardroom that he learnt valuable lesson about the value of doing small deeds that served him well throughout his life.

Some employees treated Noonan and other mail room employees like second class citizens because “all they did” was deliver mail, make photocopies, and run errands. He felt disdain, they talked down on the mail room team and treated them like they were their personal slaves. It was their way of letting them know they were there to serve the needs of the engineers and scientists who, according to them, were the important people in the organizations. They groaned whenever they saw these group of people coming.

But other employees treated the mail room staff with respect, thanked them for their assistance, and made sure the boss knew what a good job they were doing. They sometimes gave presents at Christmas. For this group of people, they made extra efforts to serve them by meeting their deadlines.

As Noonan moved up in the organization, he made it a point to acknowledge the support staff in small ways, especially the mail room workers. You can tell what kind of person somebody is by how he treats those on the lowest rung of the organization ladder. The receptionist, cleaners, office assistants, etc. it doesn’t take much to make support staff happy; either a pleasant “thank you”, a kind word of praise for a job well done, a short note of commendation. No small deed is ever wasted.

Do you know the names of the support staff working in your organization (drivers, security personnel, cleaners, office assistants, etc.)?

Michael Abrashoff was in his mid-thirties when he took command of the USS Benfold, a guided missile destroyer and one of the worst performing ships in the navy. Despite her potency, the “dysfunctional ship had a sullen crew that resented being there and could not wait to get out of the Navy.” By the time he left, less than three years later, Benfold had become the highest-performing ship and retention was amazing. According to Captain Abrashoff; he did two things:

  • I began with the idea that there is always a better way to do things, and that, contrary to tradition, the crew’s insights might be more profound than even the captain’s. Accordingly, we spent several months analyzing every process on the ship. I asked everyone, “Is there a better way to do what you do?” Time after time, the answer was yes, and many of the answers were revelations to me.
  • My second assumption was that the secret to lasting change is to implement processes that people will enjoy carrying out. To that end, I focused my leadership efforts on encouraging people not only to find better ways to do their jobs, but also to have fun as they did them. And sometimes— actually, a lot of times— I encouraged them to have fun for fun’s sake.

Business Moral: Small deeds can make a big difference in organizations. Never underestimate the impact of one small deed on your organization.

 

References:

Noonan, David. Aesop & the CEO: Powerful Business Insights from Aesop’s Ancient Fables. Nelson Books

Lessons on Leadership: Michael Abrashoff on Turning the Worst Ship in the Navy into the Best

 

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