top of page

A Leader’s Fable

As you read the following 2 scenarios, ask yourself ‘Which one best reflects my current position, or that of the leaders in my business?’


Scenario 1


Bill, a recently promoted executive at A. N. Other Company Ltd, was rushed as usual. He was often at work at 7 am and would leave around 7 pm to dash home, grab a quick dinner, spend 15 mins with his family and then do some more work before retiring late into the night. Saturdays were a little better, but the only major difference was that he worked mostly from his home office. He always planned to take every Sunday off, but it rarely worked out that way.

This Monday was no exception: He sat at his desk at the start of the day looking at his ‘to do’ list and knew instantly it would not get done. Bill was industrious and conscientious though, so he started at the top of the list and threw himself into his work.


The 9 am management team meeting came around quickly. He had called the meeting to tell his team about the company strategy and how his division, under their management, would make it work. It was the third meeting on the same topic. He liked to move things on quickly so he arrived with a prepared plan and briefed his team on how they would make it work. He liked his management team: they didn’t kick back or make a fuss, and that made for quick meetings and decisions.

He couldn’t escape a feeling, though, that something was ‘off’; some of his management team had what he would later describe as ‘a knowing look’ as he outlined the execution plan. Never mind, he had told them his door was always open so if anyone had a problem they could come and speak to him. It barely registered with him that in the 7 months he had been in his role, it had been at least 4 months since anyone had ventured into his office with any significant challenges or suggestions.


After the team meeting, there were 3 short meetings he had arranged with key clients. He would use the same approach and style for all the meetings. After all, he knew his role and understood his products very well.

In fact, Bill was getting a reputation for getting into the weeds and giving his teams precise instructions on how the company’s gadgets should be manufactured, packaged, and shipped. Bill prided himself on using his vast experience to lend a helping hand to his managers and get things moving faster.


By mid-afternoon, Bill had been side-tracked by a call asking for his input on the upcoming company charity day, and by 2 of his senior managers who had asked him for help with problems that he thought they really should have been able to deal with themselves. However, he knew it was quicker to just give them the answers, so he did.


The first 7 months in role had been stressful for Bill. He had expected a steep learning curve and that had indeed been the case. Since the fourth month, though, he had been alarmed by a notable downturn in performance measures: his division’s productivity figures were weak at best, despite recent major investments in IT, some major clients were cooler and he knew a few who had even been flirting with his competitors, staff turnover figures were rising and engagement scores were falling. Further, sick days were notably up (including on the management team), and lower-level managers were complaining about a lack of clarity and direction.


For months Bill simply resolved to work even harder to rectify these issues. He didn’t think it necessary to ask for help or advice, he was a professional and he was tough enough to see it through.


 By the end of the 7th month, though, he knew he was in trouble: he was getting shorter with everyone, and his home life was suffering.

His keep-fit routine was by now virtually non-existent, so his weight was increasing quickly, and his decision-making was becoming more and more erratic. Try as he might, he could not focus properly on even important tasks and, though he still didn’t want to admit it even to himself, his work capacity was in marked decline despite the extra hours he was putting in.


Bill was losing his passion for his work and was starting to dread Monday mornings. He fleetingly wondered if he could be on the edge of depression or of a nervous breakdown.


Scenario 2


Bill, a recently promoted executive at A. N. Other Company Ltd, was a busy man, but he was thriving in his new role. He sometimes had to work long hours, but by planning each day, week and, at a higher level, each quarter and year ahead, his workload was manageable and incorporated flexibility to allow for ‘fast balls’.

Crucially, he had learned how to categorise the innumerable tasks that he could face into one of 4 categories:


1.     Urgent and important - which would fill much of his current day’s diary

2.     Not urgent but important - which he would allocate time to in the future to prevent from becoming urgent

3.     Urgent but not important – which he would delegate if there was a possibility of any meaningful value, e.g. training for a manager, or discard

4.     Not urgent and not important – which he would discard and monitor in case its status changed


He also knew how to schedule the most important tasks for those times of the day when he felt particularly alert.


The 9 am management team meeting was an important one: the main focus was on how to better execute the company’s strategy across his division. He had stripped the agenda of all non-essential items and ensured the right people were present. He knew his management team had lots of ideas and, with many more years of experience than he had, they could provide invaluable suggestions.

He therefore stated the necessary outcome of the meeting, detailed the boundaries within which they must work, and then encouraged the team to openly debate the options. Periodically he stepped in to summarise, make a decision and move things on. He also intervened once or twice to elicit more from some of the quieter team members. By the end of the meeting, he was thrilled at the mine of information and ideas his team had generated. It had been a longer meeting, but the ideas made it worthwhile, and he knew they would not need to revisit the topic again quickly. Further, his team seemed genuinely excited by the new challenges and opportunities.

After the meeting, he attended 3 key client meetings. His coach had introduced him to some basic psychometric analysis tools and, using the knowledge he gained from them, he tailored his approach to each client and was able to deepen his working relationships with them all.


Bill had made a conscious decision to delegate effectively. Whilst he knew he could step in with sage advice on how the company’s gadgets were manufactured, packaged and shipped, he had recruited and developed his staff well so he knew that by giving them direction on what must be achieved and leaving them to work on the how, the goals would be met and his staff would have greater ownership and buy-in of the solutions.

He had also taken great care to ensure that all the division’s activities were aligned with the company’s mission, vision, values, and strategic objectives, and that these were communicated regularly and clearly throughout the division to empower staff at all levels to make appropriate decisions with clarity and confidence.


When 2 of his senior managers approached him for help with problems, he took the opportunity to do some rapid coaching. Rather than simply providing the answers, which he could have done quickly, he asked them what they thought the answers should be by getting them to first think through the assumptions, risks, options, other affected parties, etc. Although it took more time initially, he knew from experience that he would be disturbed less in future and that his senior managers would take more responsibility and have more ownership of the decisions.


When a random call came through about the company’s upcoming charity day, Bill delegated the action to a younger manager whose planning skills he wanted to develop. He used the next 30 minutes for a solo strategic thinking exercise to inform his next plans.


Later in the week, he would catch up with his internal mentor and external coach to run some new ideas by them and learn some new tools that would help. Being able to openly share his ideas and mistakes with the external coach, and looking for occasional advice from his internal mentor, helped Bill to learn quickly from his mistakes and to maximise his successes. His growing network provided another source of support.


Bill was still busy, but he knew he was busy with the right things and that was being reflected in the key metrics for his division which had a very healthy trend. He worked hard but always made time for his family and friends, kept fit and took holidays. He knew that by doing so he would be happier and more productive at work as well.




Although the above account is fictional, in many years of executive and management coaching I have observed that the stresses and strains experienced by Bill in Scenario 1 are very common. Tragically, many in such a position seem resigned to simply trying harder when there are much more effective solutions available.


The Bill in Scenario 2 may seem like a dream to some, but the tools and techniques I have used at Aspire MCL have helped make it a reality for many (see the Aspire testimonials tab on the website).


Question 1: What business and personal benefits are derived from being more aligned to the second Bill?


Question 2: Which Bill do you want to be most like? If it’s the second Bill, read on…


Next Step


Aspire MCL provides coaching, mentoring, facilitation, and psychometric analysis services to develop great leaders, build high-performing boards and teams, and transform businesses.

We use well-proven tools and techniques and tailor them to each client’s particular issues and opportunities to ensure immediate practical application with attendant results. If you really want to realise the business and personal benefits enjoyed by Bill in Scenario 2, we can help, as proven by our track record.


Get in touch today for a no-obligation consultation and let Aspire MCL help you and your business reach new heights – and enjoy doing so!


Tel: +44 (0)20 3904 7501

29 views0 comments


bottom of page