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Graham Birkenhead, April 15 2014

The Rock and the Bird

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a leader and a manager? Which do you think you are? How can you tell?

OK, so that was a bit of a red herring sort of question – I deliberately tried to mislead you, which is the whole point of this blog. Now, answer this question (not a red herring this time):  do you have anyone working for you, or do you work with others as part of a team, or do you work for someone, or come to think of it, do you have kids or a dog? If the answer to any of those is yes, then you are indeed a leader, you are in a position where you provide leadership, and the real questions we should be addressing here are: what sort of leadership do you provide, and how good you are at it?

 So let me tell you the story of the Rock and the Bird (I can’t remember where I learned this but I owe them a debt of gratitude). I have a small rock in my hand and a bulls-eye target on the floor in front of me. My objective is to get the rock into the centre of the target.  I throw the rock and it misses wide to the left. I try again, but I over correct; now it’s in the target circle but this time to the right of the centre.  I make several more attempts and each time I get nearer and nearer to the centre.  Eventually I can get that rock in the centre nearly every time. 

 Now the hard part, I pick up a small bird and I want to get it into the centre of the target. I use all of my new rock-throwing skill and launch the bird; and where does the bird go? – The darn thing goes wherever it wants to go - not where I want it to go. As often as I try to launch the bird, it just goes where it wants to go. And why is that? It has no idea where I want it to go, never mind understanding why I might want it to go there. Now, I know what you are thinking – tie the bird to the rock but that could have dire consequences, and even if the bird survived it would be extremely dis-chuffed. No, if I want to get the bird to go into the centre of the target, I need to find a way to get it to want to go there. I need to understand its motivation for doing things and then inspire it – in this case a strategically placed juicy worm should do the trick (assuming it is a worm eating bird who happens to be hungry). Anyway, throwing the rock to the centre is a metaphor for management type activity. Getting the bird into the centre is leadership.  

 There are many definitions of leadership, but put simply, it is all about influencing another living thing, usually a person (but it could be your dog or a bird), to do something. 

 To be an effective leader of people relies on acknowledging that you need to understand the motivation of the person that you wish to influence and tapping into that motivation by providing the appropriate inspiration. People that know me know my dislike of the term Human Resource, or Talent for that matter. I don't like to be considered a resource and most people that I ask don't either. So, treat your people as people and recognise them as such. Get to know them as people, understand what makes the tick, what they like and dislike, what motivates them. Armed with that knowledge, go forth and lead.

 Bottom line: manage your resources but please do lead your people. 

Written by

Graham Birkenhead

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