Do you remember the Aesop’s fable about the shepherd boy and the wolf? The boys’ job was to tend sheep and he yelled “Wolf!” signaling to the villagers that the flock was being attacked. The villagers would run to provide aid only to learn that there was no wolf. They quickly lost confidence in his ability to report the truth. When he yelled ‘wolf’ for a third time, a wolf was actually attacking the flock, but no one from the village came to help and members of the flock were killed.
The moral of the story: telling lies does lasting damage to a person’s credibility. And there are a few other lessons we can learn.
Is the shepherd boy an employee of yours? You may think that this guy has too much time on his hands (or is underemployed) if he’s got time to make up stories and find inappropriate ways to entertain himself and disrupt the workplace. . Do you have employees who have time to unsettle coworkers with gossip, undermine core values or spend time complaining? Are there things they could be doing to keep themselves occupied that are more in line with departmental goals or organizational objectives? Focusing on behaviors and activities that are detrimental to a harmonious workplace may mean that this employee needs closer supervision and more direction from you.
What about that very first episode of crying wolf when there was no evidence of any real danger? What kind of improvement feedback or discipline could have been given at the first sign of inappropriate behavior? Saying nothing tens to get you a repeat episode and that sets things up for a sad third and final episode. Discipline is intended to teach people about logical consequences and avoid more serious consequences. It’s a missed opportunity if you don’t are not having that conversation the first time it happens.
In the fable, the lost credibility of the shepherd boy is intended to be his punishment and the moral of the story.
The loss of the sheep was also a consequence for the boy’s employer. Although not every employee requires close management and direction, managers need to be willing to back up both expectations and policies with those logical conclusions and consequences when it’s called for. With a better boss, the shepherd boy might have changed his behavior after the first the first lapse in performance. The villagers would have been left uninvolved and able to focus on their work. And the entire flock of sheep would have stood a better chance at total survival.
And what about a boss who is in the habit of yelling ’Wolf,’ acting as if every issue is a crises? Constant overreaction may be part of the organizational culture but the downside is that it creates employee burnout because unlike the villagers, the boss is hard to ignore. Additionally, if everyone is jumping from crises to emergency, it’s unlikely they are doing their best work.
Working for a boss who cries ‘wolf’ requires people to repeatedly ask for a clarification and a prioritization of the multiple emergencies and to request specific deadlines so that other work can be managed and planned. Over time, folks may be able to develop the ability to identify a true crises from a manufactured one. No one wants to lose their sheep when a real wolf comes along, but how often to real wolves come along?
Granted, there would be no need for a moral to the story if everyone did the right thing with the first shouting of ‘wolf,’ but everyone would have been much happier.