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Nov 30, 2006

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Leaders must be decisive

The Miller His Son and Their Ass, Aesop's fables

One of the most frustrating moments at work is having to work
with an indecisive leader, one who keeps postponing decisions
in the hope that someone else will make that decision or that
the problem will simply disappear. We find such leaders
particularly in the civil service or in large organizations with
strong union backing. These officers are promoted by virtue
of their seniority and while they are comfortable taking
instructions, most are hopeless when they have to be the ones
issuing instructions. Not everybody can make a good leader
as leadership requires a different skill set and a high degree of
responsibility and accountability. It may be something that
the people at the helm of the organizations do not want to
admit to, maybe because they themselves benefited from the
system and have to maintain it to preserve their position and


The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass

The Miller His Son and Their Ass

(Illus by Arthur Rackham)

A Miller and his son were driving their Ass to a neighboring fair
to sell him. They had not gone far when they met with a troop of
women collected round a well, talking and laughing. "Look there,"
cried one of them, "did you ever see such fellows, to be trudging
along the road on foot when they might ride?” The old man
hearing this, quickly made his son mount the Ass, and continued
to walk along merrily by his side.

The Miller His Son Their Ass

Presently they came up to a group of old men in earnest debate.
“There," said one of them, "it proves what I was a-saying.
What respect is shown to old age in these days? Do you see
that idle lad riding while his old father has to walk? Get down,
you young scapegrace, and let the old man rest his weary limbs."
Upon this the old man made his son dismount, and got up himself.

The Miller His Son and Ass
The Miller Son and Their Ass

In this manner they had not proceeded far when they met a
company of women and children. "Why, you lazy old fellow,"
cried several tongues at once, "how can you ride upon the
beast, while that poor little lad there can hardly keep pace
by the side of you?” The good-natured Miller immediately
took up his son behind him.

The Miller Son and Ass

They had now almost reached the town. "Pray, honest friend,"
said a citizen, "is that Ass your own?” "Yes," replied the old man.
"O, one would not have thought so," said the other, "by the way
you load him. Why, you two fellows are better able to carry the
poor beast than he you." "Anything to please you," said the old
man; "we can but try."

The Miller Son Ass

So, alighting with his son, they tied the legs of the Ass together
and with the help of a pole endeavored to carry him on their
shoulders over a bridge near the entrance to the town. This
entertaining sight brought the people in crowds to laugh at it,
till the Ass, not liking the noise nor the strange handling that
he was subject to, broke the cords that bound him and,
tumbling off the pole, fell into the river.

The Miller His Son and Their Donkey

Upon this, the old man, vexed and ashamed, made the best of
his way home again, convinced that by endeavoring to please
everybody he had pleased nobody, and lost his Ass in the


Try to please all and you end up pleasing none.

Kidding me:

Strangers seldom give good advice because they accept no
liability. Listen to professional consultants instead; if their
advice proves wrong, sue them.

Quotable Quotes:

“Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with
our own private opinion.” ... Henry David Thoreau

“A few yes men may be born, but mostly they are
made. Fear is a great breeder of them.”
... William Wrigley

“We know what happens to people who stay in
the middle of the road. They get run over.”
... Aneurin Bevan

“One cool judgment is worth a thousand hasty
councils.” ... Woodrow Wilson

“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes.
It is very easy to say yes.” ... Tony Blair

“Leadership is not about being nice. It's about
being right and being strong.” ... Paul Keating

[browse collection of quotes and quotations]

Lessons in life:

In the words of Bill Cosby, "I don't know the
key to success, but the key to failure is trying
to please everybody."

This is a wake-up call to all the “yes” men, or the Mr Nice.
Fostering a good working relationship with your staff is not
about catering to all their whims and fancies. While it is prudent
to consider other people's advice and feedback, you should make
the ultimate decisions required of your role. I would rather work
with staff who have “backbones”, and stand firm on certain
opinions and principles. Of course, they should not get unduly
carried away, or cross the boundaries of politeness and respect.
It is only the employees who care enough for the company, and
are willing to assume collective responsibility for the growth of
the company, who will voice their views. The company should
value these staff. Let me say something about teams. A lot of
people assume that by working in a team, they must adhere to
every team members' wishes. From experience, this is hardly
possible. You will land up with “hung” decisions where the team
members are split on an issue and nothing moves. Teams should
therefore have leaders who are empowered to make decisions,
particularly in situations where opinions are divided, or where
the company's interests prevails.

Related Articles:

Effective and Efficient Meetings
Trust Gut Instincts and Intuition
Problem Solving: Define Problem
Learn the Art of Saying NO

Books worth reading:

Leadership in Organizations (6th Edition) by Gary A. Yukl
is one of the most comprehensive book on leadership and
managerial effectiveness in organizations. It has a good mix
of theory and applications, aimed at offering the different
perspectives on what makes a person an effective leader.
Through the discussions, you will gain an insight on the
behaviors that effective and ineffective managers possess,
and are advised on how best to handle the situations.

If you are looking at more tips on becoming strong leaders,
read this book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by
John C. Maxwell. In it are lively stories about the foibles
and successes of Lee Iacocca, Abraham Lincoln, Princess Diana,
and Elizabeth Dole. Hear his views on the necessary core
attitudes and visions of good leadership.

© Business Fables and Management Lessons

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