Some time back my son and I participated in a service project to help a young family clean out a back yard. At one time the yard was a wonderful oasis with a swimming pool, lush garden, and beautiful walkways. The once beautiful oasis was neglected over time and became an overgrown jungle of northwest foliage with its prime resident being thorny blackberry bushes. The blackberry bushes were six feet tall and covered most of the yard. What a prickly mess!
Fortunate for my son and I the homeowner had already cleared out the blackberry bushes prior to us participating in the service project. I asked the homeowner if he hired some goats to do the job. For those of you who may not know, goats are voracious herbivores and can clear out even the toughest blackberry bushes. The homeowner replied that he didn’t use goats but rather used pesticides and lots of manual labor to clear the yard of the blackberry bushes. The job got done, but it took the homeowner a lot of time and energy to clear the yard. This situation got me to thinking about the lesson that goats can teach us about leadership.
In my 30-plus years, I unfortunately can recall plenty of times where my leadership style was not about empowerment, but about micro-management and errand running. When you treat your team as errand runners, they not only will feel less empowered to do their jobs but will also likely not take the opportunity to learn how to do things the next time. This is not only bad for the team member but also makes life harder for you.
When goats clear blackberry bushes their mission is crystal clear to them. They eat until the job is done. They don’t take direction on how to do a job nor do they ask permission to do what needs to be done. They’re brought to the problem, given boundaries to work within, and then they solve the problem. The goats are empowered to do what they do best.
As leaders we can learn something from goats. When there is a problem, be crystal clear with the team as to what the problem is, ensure they know the parameters of what “done” looks like, then get the heck out of the way and let them solve the problem. Don’t micro-manage, insist something is done your way, or frustrate the team with random about-faces. Let them clear the fields and bask in the glow of knowing they did a great job solving a thorny issue.