The four ways of leading an elephant

Background: Have you ever wondered how leaders get to be the way they are? In more than one of my stints of teaching, I had to wonder VERY hard indeed and educational institutions are much like elephants: large, lumbering and grey.

There are four ways to lead an elephant.

You can walk beside the elephant, giving it guidance where necessary. The drawback is that occasionally, if you or the elephant don't take care, you may get pushed sideways into a thorn bush, but that is generally just a minor cost to pay for the benefit of having the elephant's services at your disposal. Mind you, it doesn't make you look all that important, because all you do is help the elephant find the best way to get the work done.

You can walk in front, playing the part of pointy end - and run the risk of being trampled by the pachydermatous following when some obstacle arises, and you get shoved against a wall, or worse, you risk being rammed into a thorn bush. People will see that you are in charge, they will notice how ragged you are getting (all those walls and thorn bushes), but they will certainly hear the noises you make.

You can sit on the elephant's head, pulling at its ears with a hook, guiding the elephant to go in the desired direction, occasionally talking to it, even. The elephant is free to belt you with its trunk, or scrape you off by walking under a low bough, but it knows you have the hook. Through no great effort, you have risen to a considerable height, for which achievement, most elephant drivers will take full credit, and people can most certainly see that you are in charge.

For risk-free leadership, you can walk behind the elephant with a slingshot and a pocket full of pebbles, administering shocks to the rear to guide the elephant back onto the right path when it strays. This is fun, because the elephant has no idea where it is supposed to go until you offer your bolt-from-the-blue guidance directive when it goes the wrong way. Analogous forms include the electric cattle-prod form of leadership and the boot up the fundament form of leadership. The problem here arises from which business end of the elephant you are standing near, and the risk that your guidance bolts may cause unwished-for sphincter activity.

Now excuse me, I have to get on, as I keep feeling these sudden sharp pains in my nether fetlocks.

Peter Macinnis

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This file is part of a series, written by Peter Macinnis, and last revised on August 20, 2003.

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It may be freely reproduced for educationally useful purposes (you decide if it is useful), if the file is reproduced as it appears here -- I like people to know that it is me causing them annoyance :-)