[This is the second story in the Leadership Lessons from Robin Hood series]
One day Robin asked “Little” John how he was so successful with the band. John had taught many of them to fight, hunt, cook, build shelters, and work together in many ways including while on missions against the Sheriff’s men.
At first, John was hard put to come up with an answer.
“I just ask them to do things, maybe I show them, maybe I do it with them, and then they seem to do them,” said John.
“But that’s not all, surely!” said Robin. “After all, there must be disagreements and confusion and such. How do you handle those?”
John thought some more. This was quite a challenge, since as is true with many of us, he didn’t always know what he did or why it worked. Frequently, it was just “doing what I do” and it seemed to work.
John said, “Well, Robin, you know that I’m married and that my darling wife and I have a bit of a brood, right?”
“Yes, of course, John. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well,” said John, “I just realized that there are many things I’ve learned in dealing with my wife and children that have just become automatic. And so without thinking about it, I do the same things with our band, here.
“For instance, when I want to teach my oldest son to chop down trees, I don’t just tell him ‘go chop down trees’. I first show him the axe, explain how to use it, maybe I explain how to keep it sharp and shiny, and then I take him into the forest and show him how to chop down a tree.
“Chopping down a tree seems like a simple thing, but I have to teach him how to think about where he wants it to fall, and what angle to chop, and so on.
“Once I’ve shown him what to do, then I give him the axe and watch him try it. I give him lots of encouragement, point out what he’s done well, and try to steer him away from developing any bad habits.
“When we’re done, which might take more than one tree (and fortunately the forest has plenty), he knows how to chop down a tree. He also feels good about himself and what he’s done, and our relationship is stronger than ever.”
Robin pondered this for a bit. “But that’s an easy one. I see that you have a strong yet gentle hand with your son, and that you treat him as a man, not a boy, and give him the respect and encouragement that any man would want.
“And I can also see that you don’t push him too hard, but that you don’t take it too easy on him.
“I can even see how that could apply with our band here.
“Now tell me how you handle the discord and disgruntlement that we find occurring from time to time.”
Once again, John pondered. As we saw, John did a lot of these things “automatically”, and it took some pondering to bring it to the surface.
“Well, Robin, here’s how I think it goes.
“Let’s say that two of my young ones are throwing unkind words back and forth. I could just bang their heads together. Or I could just send one out to collect mushrooms while the other chops firewood.
“But if I do that, neither one of them learns how to deal with the other. They just learn to either avoid me or avoid each other. But I want my children to enjoy each other’s company, to love and respect each other, and to work well together when they have chores.
“So I talk to them. First, I find out what they’re on about. Not just what they might say about it at first, but I try to find out what it’s really about. For instance, Luke might claim that Bryan stole his favorite plaything. Bryan, of course, would likely deny that. And then they’d go back and forth, accusing and denying, denying and accusing. I can only take so much of that. And I would be sorely tempted to bang them together!
“But what I try to do is figure out why there might be bad blood between the boys. And I might find that Bryan did take Luke’s plaything, but that he did so because Luke got the better cut of meat at dinner the night before. And Bryan was feeling hurt because he thought that I was favoring Luke.
“At that point, I’d ask Luke about dinner and whether he felt like he was being favored. We’d talk about actually talking about things that bother us, rather than doing something. Bryan was punishing Luke, but it wasn’t really Luke that had upset him. It was me and Dorothy, my wife.
“Finally, we’d see if we couldn’t find a better way to deal with it if it comes up again. Knowing my boys and girls, Luke would probably offer to make sure that they both got equal portions the next time.
“This is just one example, but maybe it helps you to see how I do what I do.
“Finding not just what’s on the surface, but what’s under the surface, is usually the best choice.
“It’s like feeding your family from the lake – if you only collect what’s floating on the surface, you’ll likely go hungry. And even if you don’t go hungry, you surely won’t have very interesting meals!”
Robin went off on his own for a bit to think about what John had told him. It was a bit of a struggle initially, to understand how John-as-father lessons applied to John-as-leader. Robin understood that John used the same techniques, but was still confused as to how John could use them without offending the folk the band. How could John be fatherly to them without them feeling like they were being treated like children?
Robin did the obvious – he asked!
Once again, John was forced to ponder. He didn’t normally think much on it – just did it as well as he could.
John said, “I don’t act like their father, nor do I treat them like children. What I do is use the same techniques that I have learned as a father with the folk of our band. It’s like chopping two different kinds of tree – I don’t pretend that oak is cherry, and I may chop each somewhat differently. But I use the same basic techniques of chopping. I don’t invent a whole new kind of chopping for cherry, after chopping oak. And I don’t pretend that the cherry is oak.”
This set Robin back a bit on his heels. When John said it so simply, it seemed so obvious. And to Robin, of course, it made great sense. While it didn’t matter what kind of target he shot at with his bow – bale of hay, tree, or living – he used basically the same techniques. He might vary them slightly, but the techniques were the same. And when he thought about it that way, he realized that it was true!
And with that, Robin realized that he had been doing much the same thing, also without knowing it. He treated Little John and Alan a Dale largely the same, dealt with the issues they brought to him using the same basic ideas and techniques. But he never treated Alan as though he were John, nor John as though he were Alan.
And neither man ever complained that “you treat me as though I were him!”
Robin also realized that if he were ever blessed with wife and children, he might also be able to use what he had learned today to make a happy family!
The lessons from any part of life can, and frequently should, be applied to other parts. This doesn’t mean that you are treating your dog as though he were your child, or that slicing an avocado is the same as cutting down a tree. But the lessons may apply.