Thursday, May 22, 2008

You Can't Send a Duck to Eagle School

(an excerpt from You Can't Send a Duck to Eagle School by Mac Anderson)

A few years ago I had lunch with a top executive from a company known for their legendary retail service. My wife and I are both big fans, and over lunch I shared with him some of the great service stories his people had provided the Anderson family. I said, "With the service your people must have a training manual 2 inches thick."

He looked up and said, "Mac, we don't have a training manual. What we do is find the best people we can find and we empower them to do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer."

Then he said something I'll never forget. He said,

"We learned a long time ago that you can't send a duck to eagle school."

"Excuse me," I said. He repeated... "You can't send a duck to eagle school." He said, "You can't teach someone to smile, you can't teach someone to want to serve, you can't teach personality. What we can do, however, is hire people who have those qualities and we can then teach them about our products and teach them our culture."

As long as I live I will never forget this simple analogy about hiring people. It is branded on my brain forever. And since that day, with every hiring decision I've made, I find myself asking the question: "Am I hiring a duck thinking they will become an eagle?" I can also honestly say that asking this simple question has saved me from making some important hiring mistakes. I just wish I'd heard it 20 years sooner.

The "Duck to Eagle School" lesson is one of many "simple truths" of leadership that I've learned on my journey as an entrepreneur. In the past 30 years, I've had the good fortune to be involved with three successful start up companies, each becoming a leader in its niche. And, as you can imagine, there have been many peaks, valleys and "lessons learned" along the way.

I've also been very fortunate to have met a lot of people who are a lot smarter than I. Successful entrepreneurs, authors, speakers, educators, coaches, and CEO's of large companies, have all helped shape my thinking. It has been their wisdom and their knowledge, combined with my own life experiences, that have helped shape who I am today.

My goal with this little book is to share some of my "lessons learned" in a brief, but engaging way. Because so many times, it's not what is said, but how it is said, that turns the switch from off to on. For me, one of the most exciting things about business and life, is that one great idea can change our life forever.

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