Early in my career as an educator I had several children from one family that truly lived "out in the sticks." The children of this family would often grace us with interesting stories of their unique country lifestyle. Let me recount one of those stories, as best as I can, which I have revisited many times over the years.
The kids in this family were evidently sitting at the table eating one evening when the mother issued a directive: "Get the cat off the table."
The kids kept eating, presumably so engrossed in their meal that they didn't hear their mother. A few minutes later, the mom seconded her directive: "I said get the cat off the table!"
Again her demand went unheeded.
A few minutes later the sound of a shotgun blast interrupted the feast. Kids ducked for cover, chairs clattered to the floor. As the smoke cleared and the ringing in their ears began to dissipate, mom lowered the gun barrel and issued this declaration: "I told you to get the &@%# cat off the table." She then calmly left the room to re-rack the shotgun.
I've thought of that story often with respect to the exercise of leadership. To be sure, folks need to know that we mean what we say. However, it is much wiser to outline our expectations (as this mother did) AND define clearly the consequences for the failure to meet those expectations (which this mother did not).
While shooting the cat achieved her objective and focused the whole team on her expectations, the collateral damage (and I'm sure there was plenty) was probably not worth her failure to communicate the possible consequences.
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