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The Fox and the Crow

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We are continuing with our series on Aesop’s ancient fables and David Noonan derived powerful business insights and the management imperatives.

As the fable goes:

A crow swooped down and stole a piece of cheese from a table and the soared to the top of a tall tree to enjoy the morsel. A fox saw the crow with the cheese and thought: I think I know a way to get to the cheese.

Standing at the bottom of the tree, the fox yelled up to the crow: Good day, sister crow. You look good well today, your wings are glossy, your feathers are as smooth as an eagle’s, and your claws look as sharp as razors. I didn’t hear you sing yet, but I bet your voice is as sweet as any bird of the forest.

The crow, believing every word the fox said, loved the flattery. Other animals have been complaining that her caw grated on their ears. She decided to prove to the fox how right he was. But as she opened her mouth to sing, the cheese fell out. The snagged it in midair and gobbled it up.

As the fox walked away, he said, “you might want to remain silent the next time someone praises you.”

The moral:Never trust a flatterer.

Management Perspective: According to Noonan; the American Philosopher John Dewey said that the deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to be important”. That urge manifests itself in the office with the desire to be appreciated. People want to be complimented on their talents and to know you value the work they do. It’s true for everyone who offers a service: the scientist, the banker, the waitress, the customer service person, the cab driver, the nurse, or the person who opens the door; they all want to feel that they matter. Showing them that you appreciate their individual contributions takes thought and effort. It’s too easy to come across a mere flatterer.

What’s the difference between appreciation and flattery? Appreciation is “the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something”. Flattery on the other hand is “excessive and insincere praise, given especially to further one’s own interests”.

Dale Carnegie in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” explains the difference between appreciation and flattery. “one is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; but the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.”

There is a saying that “Flattery will get you everywhere.” Don’t believe it. Workers gradually learn to ignore empty flatteryand mistrust flatterers. In the long run, flattery won’t work with discerning people. But true heartfelt appreciation can make a difference in a person’s life. Dale Carnegie goes on to tell the story he first heard on one of Paul Harvey’s radio broadcasts, “The Rest of the Story.”

Stevie’s Story

Many years ago, a mouse scampered across the floor of a Detroit classroom and then disappeared. The teacher, Mrs. Beneduci, asked one of her students, Stevie Morris, to help her find it, even though he was blind. The teacher valued the child’s special ability to acutely hear things, which compensated for his lack of eyesight. It was one of the first times somebody appreciated the boy’s keen sense of hearing.

The children became as silent as snowflakes as Stevie listened for the mouse. The little boy pointed in the direction of the wastebasket. Sure enough, Mrs. Beneduci found the mousehiding behind the wastebasket.

Years later, Stevie Morris would change his name to Little Stevie Wonder and would reference his teacher’s act of appreciation as a turning point in his life. Stevie Wonder has earned 25 Grammy Awards and an Oscar. He has sold more than 100 million records and ranks alongside the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson in having the most top ten records.

To appreciate workers, colleagues (junior or senior), you must know them personally. Only after you’ve invested your time and effort to know your workers as individuals, understand how well they do their jobs, and how they contribute to your company’s success, can you meaningfully appreciate them and give them the kind of validation they seek and deserve. Otherwise, your attempts to praise will come across as empty as the conniving’s crow’s.

Business Moral: The best managers genuinely appreciate their employees.



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



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