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The art of cooking a small fish

http://www.adhq.com/art-cooking-small-fish”>By David Oldfather, Affiliated Distributors 

I am occasionally asked for my opinion regarding the most effective way to lead a large organization. This question, of course, gives me yet another opportunity to tell a story.

A 6th century Chinese general, who had thus far been singularly ineffective in leading his army into battle, asked Lao Tsu, a renowned Chinese philosopher, what was the most effective way to lead and manage a large organization.

Lao Tsu’s response was surprisingly short: “Strive to manage your organization as though you were cooking a small fish.”

The answer, which is initially somewhat puzzling, was designed to stop the general in his tracks and force him to slow down and reflect. First, what can a powerful general possibly learn from cooking a small fish? And second, once the general’s ego allowed him to get past the first question, how do you, in fact, cook a small fish?

The answer is both very simple and intriguing. In cooking a small fish, one does not constantly meddle with it, tossing it over and over with a spatula, for fear that it will crumble and break apart. All of the preparation is in advance of the actual cooking of the fish, which once in the skillet, essentially must be left to cook itself.

The application to the Chinese general is straightforward enough; he must learn to prepare his battle plan in advance of the battle, and then pull back and let his field commanders and officers execute the plan and respond to the exigencies of the day.

The application to AD and our Affiliates is equally straightforward.

Back in 2003/04, AD’s senior management team made a conscious decision to step back, listen carefully to our members and suppliers, realistically assess our strengths and weaknesses, develop a long-term plan and then let it work … at the local and regional levels. Admittedly, this approach marked a deliberate shift in AD’s strategic relationship with its Affiliates and Suppliers, but it placed the emphasis on our Affiliates and Suppliers and placed AD’s resources in the hands of our Affiliates’ managers, where it’s needed the most.

Rather than develop and oversee large, centralized programs and initiatives, AD’s senior management team chose to devote its time and resources to more fully engaging our Affiliates and Suppliers through a series of onsite meetings and phone calls, enhancing reporting visibility by developing and effectively communicating a series of online forecasting and performance reports designed to be utilized by our Affiliates and Suppliers at their places of business, and helping our Affiliates and Suppliers more effectively compete in the electrical marketplace by giving them the tools they need to effectively compete in new and existing markets (e.g. Clean Energy; ecommerce).

Just like leading a large organization, cooking a small fish requires forethought, preparation and knowing when to stand back and get out of the way.

David Oldfather
President, Electrical Divisions

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