Janet W. Hagen , Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA
A few months ago I came across a very visual way of describing a situation that many of us have experienced in our professional development. While seemingly productive, the situation is, in so many ways, counterproductive. How many times have you arrived at work with an agenda that needs to be tackled with some alacrity, only to find your self four hours later, hungry, tired and with nothing substantial ticked off to do list? Have you paused at the beginning of a new fiscal year to think about what you had planned to do this year – and didn’t? It wasn’t that you weren’t working. In fact you spent a lot of energy doing what you did. Unfortunately, it wasn’t necessarily what was more useful in the long term.
If you have ever experienced that, you may be victim a very common malady that I like to call “Chasin’ Chickens.” For those of you who did not have the good fortune to be exposed to chickens in their domesticated natural habitat, the barnyard and the chicken coop, imagine the noble bird, softly clucking and strutting about a well worn, grass and dirt area with a small hut in the corner. Imagine that it is a pleasant sunny day with five white-feathered chickens moving and clucking about. Then, add some red roosters, and increase the flock to ten, and then twenty. Add a few brightly colored hens and a couple of small bantam roosters and the flock is at thirty or so with each moving independently, yet aware of each other’s movement, to any intrusion, quiet, yet alert.
Next, you enter the flock, ready to do business with your top five birds. As you reach into your grain bucket to attend the first of the five, four more notice and come running, wanting to get theirs, too. You give them all a little, and move on to the next. This time the flock is aware that you are there and ten more come with the second bird that you address. By the third time you reach into the bucket, the whole flock is demanding your grain.
Sometimes, you manage to contain the flock, and you have your bird in hand, when another, more brightly colored and more interesting – potentially more lucrative? – bird runs by and you find your self like off like a hound dog “chasin’ chickens.” Chase enough chickens and your chickens won’t make it. In the business classic “Good to Great,” Jim Collins identified how great organizations endure: identify what you do best and constantly refine and revise how to do that better. A sharp contrast to chasing every good-looking chicken that comes along.
A good leader understands the balance between progress toward goals and seizing an opportunity. Good luck to you as you decide which one of those chickens to go after.