I really like well written business fables. In fact, the more of them I read, the more I like them. The messages are concise and easily remembered. The “story” element makes for a quick read. In simple terms, a good business fable has all the “sticky” elements that make a message last. Gung Ho! by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles (of Raving Fans fame) is a shining example of a good fable at work.
The premise of the story is this:
Rising star Peggy Sinclair is tasked with the near impossible – turn around a struggling factory in less than six months. Enter Andrew Longclaw – a Native American plant foreman who teaches Peggy management lessons based on the key characteristics of three animals. In doing so, the duo is able to turn around the struggling business unit and spark a revolution that sweeps the country.
Sound far-fetched? It is, a little. But it’s also brilliantly written, loaded with “ah ha!” moments that are destined to revolutionize your life or business… if you give them a chance. That’s the wonderful thing about fables, of course – they encourage you to suspend disbelief and open your mind just long enough to capture a crucial lesson.
I would suggest there are nine core lessons in Gung Ho!, all addressing some form of engagement – getting yourself (and those around you) inspired in their daily activities. Gung Ho! teaches us that a winning attitude comes from being actively involved in worthwhile work with the right goals and values and the right recognition.
One great reminder in particular came out of this book…
Who Comes First?
"Customers came right after the team members. The work of an organization is to look after customers, but the reason the organization exists in the first place is to serve the people who work there, as well as the community they live in."
Any activity you’re involved in (work in particular) is about the people who do it first and foremost. Customers are important, suppliers are important, but the mental shift should be towards providing an environment that empowers and instills passion in the people around you. Customers and suppliers are drawn to Gung Ho cultures. Build an environment that fosters motivated teammates and the success will follow.
The animals tie in like this…
Squirrels Have Worthwhile Work
"One of the fastest and surest ways to feel good about yourself is to understand how your work fits into the big picture. When you feel good about yourself, well, that’s the beginning of Gung Ho."
Squirrels gather nuts all day because they inherently understand that if they don’t, they won’t survive the winter. Their lives, and the lives of their families depend on them. That gives their work purpose.
What does your work provide to your life and the lives of the people around you – your family and community? Forget about dollars and cents for a minute. What are you and your organization contributing to the world? How do your specific actions factor into that purpose? If you don’t have an answer right away, I encourage you to take some time to discuss this with your co-workers, friends and family.
Blanchard and Bowles suggest that every job provides value to mankind in some way. What would happen if your role didn’t exist? If your industry didn’t exist? In Gung Ho!, the example used is of a dishwasher at a school cafeteria. Imagine that was your job. You could focus on the fact that you have a never-ending pile of dishes to clean, or you could focus on the fact that without your role the students would run a higher risk of contracting bacteria or disease from unclean dishes and utensils.
Every role has its purpose. What’s yours?
No Boss Beaver
"Grandfather said the Great Spirit painted a picture in the beavers’ head of what a perfect dam looked like, gave them a stream and some trees, and then put them in charge by leaving them alone."
Beavers are pretty cool creatures. If you ever have the opportunity to see them build a dam, I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch them in their work. There’s no “boss beaver” – no one giving direction or dictating how things need to be done. Instead, there’s a group of individuals, each working in their own way towards a predetermined vision of excellence. The next time you’re in a team setting, spend some time clearly defining your values and your goals, then get started. Don’t worry about precisely how you’re going to get there, and certainly don’t try to dictate it to your team (if you have one). People often times get too wrapped up in planning specific “how to’s” and procedure. Teams are best utilized when everyone is contributing, in their own way, towards one specific outcome. Most rules and regulations are simply second rate alternatives to a clear, collective vision.
There was one last animal in the fable that is absolutely worth a mention. The “Way of the Goose” is the third piece to the puzzle. Ultimately the way of the Goose is about encouragement and reward for committed people working on worthwhile tasks towards collective goals. While we don’t have time to go into it here, you can learn more about the “Way of The Goose” here.
I could spend the next six months talking about Gung Ho!, and if you’re in a leadership position, I absolutely encourage you to pick up a copy. For today’s purposes, we’ll end our discussion on two points:
- People are meant to be impassioned in their work. It’s part of our DNA to want to contribute to something larger than ourselves. There’s a good chance you’re already doing meaningful work, you just need to spend a minute reconnecting with what it is, and what you’re working towards.
- There are some great lessons in books out there, and we’re committed to bringing you the best of them. One of the best teachers, though, is the world around us. Go out with open eyes – really stop and watch a flock of geese, a tribe of beavers or children at play – and you’ll see there is an incredible lesson to be learned in virtually everywhere you go.
I wish you all the best in finding those lessons yourself.