Have You Become A “Horton The Elephant” Manager?

Horton Hatches the Egg  Book CoverIn Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg, we meet Horton the Elephant, who agrees out of the kindness of his heart to sit on Mayzie the lazy bird’s egg while she takes what she calls a “short break.”

Her break turns out to be a permanent relocation to sunnier climes while Horton sits on the egg through wind, rain, and snow, faithfully caring for Mayzie’s baby.

Because it is a children’s book, Horton ends up being rewarded, but in real life, sometimes it can feel like “no good deed goes unpunished.”*

Many managers I work with end up taking on their people’s work simply because they are nice. When pressed, here are some reasons they give—followed by a coaching question I might ask.

Client Response 1: “I don’t think it’s fair to ask people to stay late or work on weekends.”  Coaching Question 1: Perhaps not, but is it fair that you are doing it?

Client Response 2: “I’m so familiar with the task that it will take me far less time than it will take him.” Coaching Question 2: How will he ever get as good and fast as you if you won’t let him figure it out?

Client Response 3: “My people are already overwhelmed with the new project.” Coaching Question 3: There may be some overstating on this score. How long has that excuse been milked?

Some managers take the message of being the servant leader so much to heart that they end up working a lot harder than any of their team members. And not to be cynical, but some employees will take advantage of the situation if they know their manager is a really nice person.

Are you Horton? Cut it out.

Chances are, someone has you pegged for a softie and is taking full advantage of it. It’s also possible that by being too patient and taking on more work than you should, you are thwarting your employees’ development. There is a huge gap between being such a big meanie that you burn people out and being such a softie that your employees are never challenged to rise to the occasion, learn new things, and become more efficient. A couple of rules of thumb to follow:

  • Set a standard for how much work, outside of regular work hours, is acceptable to you and check in with individual team members to assess how much is acceptable to each of them. Make group standards and your expectations crystal clear if there will be times when all team members will need to put in a few late days or extra hours on weekends.
  • Keep everything up front and transparent and make sure everyone is carrying a fairly equal load. The more that things are above board and clear, the less likely it is for one or two people to fly under the radar and get away with doing less.
  • Keep careful track of who goes above and beyond, and publicly acknowledge and reward them when they do.
  • Develop your team—specifically so that you can use the right leadership style to develop each of your team members to do tasks that are a no-brainer for you.
  • If you can’t get the work done within your own and your group’s standards, this is an indication that you have a different problem to solve; for example, perhaps you are not setting limits with your own boss.

Help yourself and your people by setting clear expectations, and then promoting growth, transparency,and fairness.

*Attributed to Oscar Wilde and Clare Booth Luce

About the author

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard, and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation. Previous posts in this series:

Are You A Workplace Freedom Fighter?

Empowerment—One Time When It’s Not a Good Idea

Are You TOO Nice? 4 Ways to Be Compassionate and Fair

Delaying Feedback? No News Is Not Always Good News

Providing Clear Direction—You’re Not Being Bossy; You’re Being A Boss

Setting Boundaries: 7 Ways Good Managers Get It Wrong

The Well-Intentioned Manager’s New Year’s Resolution: Have More Fun

The Top Three Mistakes Good Managers Make

Managing Polarities: A Key Skill for the Well-Intentioned Manager

2 thoughts on “Have You Become A “Horton The Elephant” Manager?

  1. Pingback: Don’t Be a Wuss When Managing Others | Blanchard LeaderChat

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