Film: The Fox and the Hound
Release Date: July 10, 1981
Scenario: Tod the fox and the Widow Tweed have been inseparable since he was orphaned and left on her doorstep a year ago. Unfortunately, her next-door neighbor, Amos, is a hunter with very little (read as “none”) patience for the fox distracting his newest hunting dog, Copper. When chased by the veteran tracking dog, Chief, Tod finds himself on the railroad tracks facing the headlight of a train. When he ducks out of the way, Chief is struck and falls from the bridge, badly injuring his leg. The rifle-toting hillbilly vows that he will get revenge, causing the Widow Tweed to make a hard decision. She puts Tod in the car the next day and drives him out to the Game Preserve, a large area of the forest where hunting is prohibited, and leaves Tod there, hoping this will give him a better chance of survival.
Leadership Lesson: Recognize when it’s time to encourage your people to move up and/or out.
This is probably the hardest lesson in the series so far. As leaders, we become attached to our people over time. Many times, these work associates become work friends, and sometimes that friendship extends beyond the realm of work. It is important that we keep these relationships within the guidelines of professionalism and that we not allow them to interfere with our duties in the workplace, but I’m sure that lesson will come at a later time.
We invest in our people, and as a result we often feel protective of them. We enjoy seeing them grow and develop under our leadership, and hopefully we learn some things from them as well. These attachments and investments make it very difficult to recognize when it is time to encourage our people to advance their career, whether that means moving up from or out of our team.
This difficulty can also exist with those associates that we may not have developed those same friendships with, but whom we still see a valuable asset to our team. We don’t want to lose the important skills and knowledge they bring to the group.
It can be very easy for us to rationalize that we still have much to teach this individual, or that we need more time to prepare them or our team for their departure. However, this is nothing more than delaying the inevitable. The time always comes when a member of our team is ready to take the next step in their career advancement, and they need us there to encourage them, not holding them back due to selfish pretenses.
Even more than our encouragement, sometimes they may need us to point out to them how ready they are. Many people are too self-conscious or comfortable to recognize their own abilities and potential. In these cases, we must play the role of the mother bird, pushing the chicks out of the nest and making them fly.
How do we recognize this potential? Well, it happens differently in different fields. So, let’s look at a couple of examples to get an idea of what we should be looking for.
Retail: In this example, we are the manager of a retail clothing store. Travis joined us about a year ago and has been one of our top performing associates for the past 6 months. He knows our product, follows our policies, and is wonderful with our customers. He has helped with merchandising, replenishment, and just about every other aspect of running the store. He rarely has to ask questions, and when he does it is usually because a decision needs to be made that has to come from a supervisor or higher. When he has come to us with these questions, we’ve asked him for his opinion of how to resolve the issue, and he has been right on target almost every time. We feel that he is ready to move in to a supervisory role, but we don’t have any openings at our store in the foreseeable future. It was just announced in an internal email for managers only that a new location is opening soon in our local area, and the company is requesting recommendations for a supervisors to help build the new team. If we feel Travis is ready to be a supervisor at our store, but we have no openings, why would we not recommend him for a location with available positions?
Office: Jackie has been a member of our Accounting team for several years now. She joined us to help with some filing as a temp with no accounting experience, but we found that she has a great skill for numbers and learns new concepts very quickly. She has been integral in helping us tighten-up many of our processes and reduce our risk of errors. In addition to these skills, we’ve also noticed she has a talent for design: from potluck sign-up sheets to team meeting invitations, she has produced some incredibly creative and eye-catching layouts. When we’ve spoken to her about this, she’s told us that it’s something she’s dabbled in for quite some time now, and that “maybe one day” she’d look in to taking some graphic design classes and see about doing more with those particular talents. While having lunch with our friend who manages the marketing department, she mentions that they are going to need to hire a few new graphic designers soon in order to keep up with the demand of the company’s growing need, but that she finds a lot of external hires take a long time to understand our business and how we communicate with our customers. If we’ve been impressed with Jackie’s skills and know that she understands our business, what would be our reason not to mention them to our friend? It could potentially benefit our associate, our friend, and our company.
Growing and cultivating is an important part of our job as leaders. However, as any farmer can tell you, every plant reaches a peak where it must be removed and become something more, something new. Our people depend on us to help with this part of their career advancement as well, whether they know it or not.