Business lessons come from many sources. I am particularly fond of stories that feature animals, perhaps because they strip away the politics and focus on the practical. (Also, I don’t need to change names to protect the innocent!)
Here are a few of my favorites, along with the lessons we can learn from them:
No bull. Legend has it that once upon a time a tiger ate a bull. The tiger was so satisfied with his feast that he growled and growled. A big game hunter heard the growling, tracked it to the tiger, and shot the tiger dead.
Moral: When you are full of bull, keep your mouth shut.
Be dependable. A farmer had been plowing with an ox and a mule teamed together. One day, the ox said to the mule, “Let’s play sick today and take it easy.”
But the mule said, “No, we need to get our work done.”
The ox played sick anyway. The farmer brought it fresh hay and corn and tried to make it comfortable
When the mule came in from plowing, the ox asked how it went. “We didn’t get quite as much done,” the mule said, “But we did a fair stretch.”
Then the ox asked, “What did the farmer say about me?”
“Nothing,” the mule replied.
The ox played sick again the next day. He asked the mule about the day’s progress.
“All right,” the mule said, “but we didn’t get much done.”
“Well,” the ox continued, “what did the farmer say about me?”
“Nothing to me,” the mule answered, “but he did have a long talk with the butcher.”
Moral: If you cut out on your job, expect to be cut from your job.
Practice makes perfect. Bringing a giraffe into the world is a tall order. First the baby falls 6-8 feet and usually lands on its back. Mom lowers her head, takes a quick look and then delivers the newborn’s first lesson. She positions herself over her newborn and kicks her baby so that it is sprawling head over heels. This process is repeated until the baby stands for the first time on its wobbly legs.
In the wild, baby giraffes must be able to get up quickly to stay with the herd, where there is safety. Lions, hyenas, leopards and wild hunting dogs all enjoy eating young giraffes, and they’d be licking their chops if mother didn’t teach her calf to stand quickly.
Moral: The future belongs to those who are prepared for it.
Competition makes you better. In Africa, every morning a gazelle gets up and knows that it must out-run the fastest lion or it will get eaten. And every morning, a lion gets up and knows that it must out-run the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. So, whether you are a gazelle or a lion, every morning when you get up, you’d better start running.
Moral: If you can’t win, make the person ahead of you break the record.
Constructive criticism should build people up. Major League umpire Bill Guthrie was sharing the space behind the plate with a catcher from the visiting team who protested many ball and strike calls.
In the fourth inning, when the heckling started up again, Guthrie stopped him. “Son,” he said to the catcher, “you’ve been a big help to me calling balls and strikes, and I appreciate it. But I think I’ve got the hang of it now. So I’m going to ask you to go to the clubhouse and show them how to take a shower.”
Moral: The goal of criticism is to leave the person better than he or she was before.
Everyone is important. During a student’s second month of nursing school, a professor gave a pop quiz. Easy, until she read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” The student had seen the cleaning woman, who was tall, dark-haired and middle-aged, but how would she know her name?
She had to leave the last question blank. One student asked if that question counted toward our quiz grade.
“Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello.’” The student never forgot that lesson. She also learned her name was Dorothy.
Moral: Take the time to meet the people who are taking care of you.
Mackay’s Moral: Business and life lessons aren’t always taught in school.