The Dog and The Wolf – Another Aesop Fable on Leadership

The Dog and the Wolf

A gaunt Wolf was almost dead with hunger when he happened to meet a House-dog who was passing by. “Ah, Cousin,” said the Dog. “I knew how it would be; your irregular life will soon be the ruin of you. Why do you not work steadily as I do, and get your food regularly given to you?”

“I would have no objection,” said the Wolf, “if I could only get a place.” “I will easily arrange that for you,” said the Dog; “come with me to my master and you shall share my work.”

So the Wolf and the Dog went towards the town together. On the way there the Wolf noticed that the hair on a certain part of the Dog’s neck was very much worn away, so he asked him how that had come about. “Oh, it is nothing,” said the Dog. “That is only the place where the collar is put on at night to keep me chained up; it chafes a bit, but one soon gets used to it.” “Is that all?” said the Wolf. “Then good-bye to you, Master Dog.”

Better starve free than be a fat slave.

And so it goes at work. If you take no risks you’ll never get anywhere. You’ll end up being a very fat slave, eating well but unfree.

The ability to take measured risks is one of the key components of leadership. The key is to be taking risks that are manageable and measured, ones that will not destroy your career.

Try this at work:

Risk is personal. What might be risky to you may not be risky at all to other people. What you need to do to start down the path to risk taking is to first identify those things that you find risky and then begin to try a strategy to manage your risks.

  1. Identify 5 things that you find risky at work.
  2. For each item, figure out the rewards for taking the risk.
  3. Next figure out the consequences of failure.
  4. Evaluate all of those items and pick one that seems the least risky.
  5. Now go and do it, take that risk and see whether it works.

Once you get the hang of taking risks, you should be trying out your new risk taking behaviour on a regular basis, trying new things and learning from them.

If you feel like it, tell me what you find risky and how you’ll manage taking that risk.



Many companies use a rating system for employees in performance appraisals that puts them in classes like A,B,C or 1,2,3. The As and 1s are reserved for the very best employees or as it is frequently put, those whose work exceeds expectations. The Bs or 2s are for people whose work meets expectations and the Cs or 3s are for those whose work does not meet expectations. Simple eh? The problem is that no on knows what Meets Expectations means when compared with Exceeds Expectations. Many employees think that when they are doing their job very well as described in their job description, they’ll get an Exceeds Expectations. Sorry, doesn’t happen.

The difference between Meeting Expectations and Exceeding them is Initiative

The secret to being an A employee, a 1, or an Exceeds Expectations and thereby getting a promotion, raise or bigger bonus means doing more than what was expected of you at work. That means you must do more than what was in your job description. If someone tells you to do something and you do it, even if you do it very well, you are still only Meeting Expectations. That is because you are expected to do what you are asked to do and you are expected to do it very well or you wouldn’t be working there very much longer.

To do more than what was expected of you at work, you need to use initiative. That means you must find something important that needs to be done and is not part of your regular job and do it. That’s all the difference between an A and a B, initiative.

Try this at work:

Find some small thing that people recognize is a problem and fix it. It could be as simple as finding a better way to deal with contact information, a better way to keep track of projects, a better way to get approval for expenditures.

Once you have picked this thing to improve, then fix it and let everyone know what you have done and why. This communication is not for tooting your own horn but to make sure the change is implemented by everyone. You might have to remind them several times.

After you’ve tried out this initiative once, keep doing it. Find something else to fix or start and start it. Keep doing small things that are outside the scope of your job and then start making those things bigger. Work up to major projects and pretty soon you’ll be noted for your initiative.


Self Confidence

“Confidence is a plant of slow growth in an aged bosom.”

William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, 1766

You probably don’t even notice it happening. Do you remember the first time you tried to dive off a very high diving board? Do you remember the feeling? The hesitation, the butterflies. Now do you remember the second dive off the same high diving board, the third, the tenth, the 100th? Your changed feelings are the result of building confidence.

One day, you face a new situation, full of dread, nervous anticipation and excitement. The next you are treating the situation as old hat, developing confidence with every step.

Self confidence is one of the keys to successful leadership.

Can you imagine following a nervous leader, one who lacks self confidence? It doesn’t work does it. So, if you want to be a good leader, you need to develop a well justified aura of self confidence. Developing it is all about practice. Doing something time and time again (eventually successfully) will build your self confidence.


Try this at work:

Find some small thing in which you feel that you lack self confidence. Don’t make it something huge like speaking to a group of 100 people if that is one of your fears. Make it something small, perhaps like having a conversation with someone who is very senior to you, saying no to an unreasonable request, meeting new people at a networking event, or voicing your opinion at a meeting.

Once you have picked this thing to work on, set yourself an objective of repeating the behaviour ten times. Yes that’s right, ten times.

Let’s say you want to become more self confident about speaking up in a meeting. The next time you go to a meeting, make it an objective to speak up sometime in the meeting to voice your opinion. Write down how you felt before voicing your opinion and how you felt after that. Note also what happenned. Did anyone hit you, yell at you, belittle you or did they just hear your opinion and move on? Now do that nine more times, writing down your feelings and the results of the experiment.

After you have completed the experiment ask your self, do you feel more self confident? Chances are you have developed a useful technique to overcome fears.

The Eagle and the Jackdaw – Aesop on Leadership

An Eagle, flying down from his perch on a lofty rock, seized upon a lamb and carried him aloft in his talons. A Jackdaw, who witnessed the capture of the lamb, was stirred with envy and determined to emulate the strength and flight of the Eagle. He flew around with a great whir of his wings and settled upon a large ram, with the intention of carrying him off, but his claws became entangled in the ram’s fleece and he was not able to release himself, although he fluttered with his feathers as much as he could. The shepherd, seeing what had happened, ran up and caught him. He at once clipped the Jackdaw’s wings, and taking him home at night, gave him to his children. On their saying, “Father, what kind of bird is it?’ he replied, “To my certain knowledge he is a Daw; but he would like you to think an Eagle.”

The leadership lesson here: You must know your own strengths and limitations

And that’s not easy. We all like to think ourselves capable of miracles and deserving of increased responsibility until the point where we go one step beyond our capabilities.

Try this at work:

Your exercise this week is to actually take stock of your strengths and limitations. Write down a list of your 10 greatest strengths and your 10 most glaring weaknesses. When you have done this, talk to your boss or your mentor and get these confirmed. Look as well how these help or hinder in your current job and what the impact would be if you actually had your boss’ job.

When you have a chance, write a comment to tell me about what you observed.

Are you a Debbie-Downer?

Your ability to control unexpected emotions like anger and frustration and not display other negative emotions are hallmarks of Emotional Intelligence. (I must admit that I wasn’t always very good at this and I like to think that with age comes maturity.) The reason that you need to cure the habit and control negative emotions is probably self apparent.

Nobody wants to work with a Debbie-Downer.

After all, who wouldn’t prefer to work with someone who exhibited happiness over sadness, joy over grief, contentment over frustration. Emotions are contagious and if you’re stuck with a negative person, you’ll find your energy drained and begin avoiding their company.

The first step in curing this nasty habit is to be aware that you’re showing your negative emotions. While it isn’t easy to see these in yourself until after the fact, it is easier to see in people you are working with.

Try this at work:

Your exercise this week is to pay attention to coworkers negative emotions. Take out your notebook and write down every time someone at work exhibits a negative emotion. That emotion could be anger, frustration, irritation, cynicism or whatever other negative emotion you detect. When you note this negativity, note how you feel as a result and how this mood affects those around you. If you keep noting this behaviour in others, you’ll come to notice it in yourself and that is the first step to stopping the habit.

When you have a chance, write a comment to tell me about what you observed and whether that made you question your own display of emotions.

Knowing yourself – what drives you?

Over the next many weeks, we’ll be presenting a series of leadership and management exercises to help you understand yourself better and to help you become a better leader. This is the first of these exercises. Watch out for them on Mondays as long as I stay organized.

What Drives You?

One of the key factors in emotional intelligence is understanding your emotions. You need to know what drives, angers, motivates, frustrates, and inspires you. By knowing these drivers, you’ll understand why you react the way you do in certain situations. By knowing why you react, you’ll be better able to manage your own emotions and present a controlled and capable exterior in emotional situations.

The Exercise

So here it is, the exercise. Over the next week, pay attention to your emotions. Tune in to the way you are feeling when you’re working, talking to people, or in meetings. As you become aware of those emotions, jot down what was happening and how you were feeling in a little journal. At the end of the week, do some analysis of those feelings. Look for common patterns and identify the things that made you:

  • angry
  • frustrated
  • motivated
  • inspired

If you want to learn more about this subject, read Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence” or click here.