I love this story from “the “Leadership Farm” vault because it conjures up all sorts of images about the Australian outback and animal behaviour and carries a strong leadership lesson to boot.
“In the days before helicopter mustering, dirt bikes, and digital anything, tasks on outback sheep and cattle stations were ably carried out by men and women with the help of a couple of four-legged assistants.
So when George, the manager of Longview Station in South West Queensland decided to check on his stock on the 100,000 acre property he simply saddled-up Regal his stock horse, packed five days provisions and let Jo the trusty kelpie off her leash and away they went. No problems – done it before, even though it was the middle of summer.
Now, a note about Jo as this is relevant to the story – she had this strange habit. Every time she was let off her lead she would pick-up a stick in her mouth and carry it for the entire trip. If she was required to work along the way she would drop her stick, do what she was told and then collect it and carry it to the next job.
True to form, as they left the homestead this day, Jo collected a stick at the front gate and away they went.
All went smoothly until three days out when Fred was crossing a dry creek bed when Regal suddenly reared at the sight of a snake sunning itself on the track ahead. Taken by surprise, George was dislodged and hit the ground heavily, badly breaking his leg.
Regal took off in a cloud dust. George was in trouble as he never bothered to tell the others at the homestead where he was heading when he went on his treks. No need to panic though, he still had Jo! Ever resourceful, he quickly scribbled a note describing his predicament and location and attached the note to Jo’s stick and ordered her to “Go home”.
Obedient as she was, Jo struck out for home. For one and a half days she ran only stopping at the very occasional waterhole for a quick drink and then off. Each time dropping the stick to lap the cool water but collecting it again as she dashed forth.
Eventually she dragged her exhausted body to the top of the last ridge to see the twinkling lights of the homestead below. Her heart leapt!
That last section was agony but she made it. Crawling at this stage she entered the house yard, inched her way to the house, went under the house with her stick and ate the note!”
Don’t know what happened to George, I’ll leave the ending of the story to your imagination. Suffice is to say that his future would have been a deal more optimistic had he planned his route and shared it with the others at the homestead. They would have known he was in strife somewhere in the 100,000 acres as soon as the dog returned without him. But without knowing where he was headed their rescue mission was like finding a needle in a haystack.
For some reason I seemed to be reminded of this story more and more recently as I come across not for profit leaders who are wonderful on articulating the vision and mission of their organisations. When asked about their road map or flight plan detailing precisely how they will transform this dream into reality they often start to become very flaky. One CEO even said in response to my enquiry
” Well we will all just keep doing what we are doing but even better” – I offered him the best of luck.
My other interesting observation of organisations who run with a loose or non-existent business plan is that they have very poor employee engagement. Sure employees may express support for a mission statement but these in most cases are mere platitudes if they fail to see how they are going to be led there. And I am sure that if the ultimate goal isn’t achieved their reaction will be something like:
“Don’t blame me I did what I was asked”
I have a suspicion Jo may have felt the same.
About the author: This post is by Chris Gandy, founder of Cause and Effective a group that aims to help leaders of cause-based organisations to deliver on their mission by providing insightful information and linking them with affordable subject matter experts.