The Sheriff of Not-Knowing-Your-People


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Film: Robin Hood

Release Date: November 8, 1973

Setting: The Sheriff of Nottingham has imprisoned Friar Tuck and many other residents of the local village for “treason” (aka being too poor to pay taxes and being loyal to King Richard instead of Prince John).  In order to rescue their friends, Robin and Little John abduct one of the Sheriff’s vulture-guards, Nutsy (pictured above, on the left), so that Robin can disguise himself and steal the keys to the jail (pictured above, on the right).  In true Disney fashion, this seemingly insane plan is pulled off without a hitch by our heroes.  I tend to attribute most of the mission’s success to the fact that they just happened to have a sock the exact same colors as Nutsy’s beak handy, but I digress.

So, what possible leadership lesson could be found in this outlandish scene?

Leadership Lesson:  Know the people you are leading so well that you can immediately know when something is amiss.

As a Leader, it can be very easy to get so caught up in emails, meetings, and deadlines that we forget the most important thing: the people we are leading.  It is vital to know the personalities that we are working with.  Some things to know include:
1) What is their typical demeanor: Bright and bubbly?  Chill and mellow?  Quiet and shy?
2) How do they react to bad news: Contemplative?  Explosive?  Anxious?
3) What is their organizational style: Everything has a place with no clutter?  Piles everywhere but they know exactly where everything is?

Knowing these behaviors can help us spot a problem before it becomes serious.  If a person is usually neat and tidy, but we notice their work area and/or appearance are starting to get a little chaotic, there’s a good chance that something is happening that may need our attention.  Perhaps the work load is starting to become too much for them to manage, and a plan needs to be made to help redistribute projects or re-prioritize tasks.  If our bright and bubbly associate seems quiet and/or stand-offish for more than a day or two (we all have a bad day here and there), there could be a team morale problem that needs to be addressed to ensure everyone is comfortable and able to work together.

Had the Sheriff known his people so well that he noticed Nutsy suddenly had paws instead of wings and a large, orange tail, there is a good chance that he would have been much more successful at the task assigned to him.  And, while this instance turned out to work in favor of the greater good (as it should in a Disney film), odds are this would not be the case in the world of our teams.

“More than anything else today, followers believe they are part of a system, a process that lacks heart. If there is one thing a leader can do to connect with followers at a human, or better still a spiritual level, it is to become engaged with them fully, to share experiences and emotions, and to set aside the processes of leadership we have learned by rote.”

— Lance Secretan, Industry Week, October 12, 1998

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