Two and half years after I began writing (and more than fours after I conceived the book idea), I have finally finished the first draft of my Moose-on-the-Table book! Squeezing this writing between a major web site redesign, increasingly busy Client work schedule, and all the other writing I do for our newsletter and various publications was a huge challenge. Most times writing this book was like a passionate hobby and I had lots of fun doing it.
This is my first work of fiction using a business fable to illustrate the book’s leadership lessons ( see “I’m just making this up” blog post for some background).
The book’s main character is Pete Leonard a struggling middle manager in a struggling company. In the following excerpt Pete’s mentor, Alfred, is using a story to illustrate how unaddressed organizational problems often creep up on us when we’re successful and growing very sure of ourselves. By discouraging open dialogue we delude ourselves into thinking we’re doing fine. So if we fail to grow and continually change, we get changed.
“Years ago there was a mighty hunter named Maynard. His name meant ‘brave strength’ from the Germanic elements magin ‘strength’ and hard ‘brave, hardy.’ Maynard’s elk instincts, hunting skills, and marksmanship with a longbow were legendary. He could pretty much find and kill elk at will. His hunting success was many times that of any other hunter. So his party of followers increased and he became the head of a large and very well fed band of hunters that roamed through Olde England’s great forests, meadows, and glens.
As years past, Mighty Maynard spent more and more time lounging in the sun and basking in his own glory. He loved nothing more than the praise of others for his unmatched prowess and legendary feats. He began wearing a set of elaborately decorated horns and spent evenings sitting at the fire on a very large and intricately carved oak chair as elk roasted for the evening feast. As time past, his temper became more volotile. He carried a large and gnarly walking stick to club hunters who dared make a mistake during a hunt or were just unlucky enough to be in the way when Mighty Maynard was in a foul mood. Everyone knew of Mighty Maynard’s temper. They were also well aware that he’d killed a few hunters and broken bones in many others. No one talked about that.
Maynard’s second in command was Alvin which means “elf friend” from the Old English name Ælfwine, which was formed of the elements ælf ‘elf’ and wine ‘friend’ and…”
“Your obsession with the meaning of names is getting really irritating,” Peter interjected.
“Words create our world. my friend. There’s a deeper meaning to words and the world around you that you’re choosing to ignore. That’s a big reason you’ve got so many elk, or I should say moose, in your life.”
Pete rested his head on his right hand and stared at the floor. “Meanwhile, back to our story…Unlike you, Alvin was a master storyteller. He earned his powerful position because of his ability to dramatize Mighty Maynard’s greatest hunting feats. Maynard never tired of Alvin’s evening entertainment. The rest of the hunters learned to look enthusiastic and cheer in all the right places during Alvin’s repeated re-enactments. The Mighty Maynard had encouraged this participation after he walked over and whacked a few bored looking hunters with his big stick when Alvin first started telling his tales.
Eventually Mighty Maynard’s elk horns, huge wooden chair, and Alvin’s growing number of props meant that moving around to track the elk became increasingly difficult. So when the hunting party found a spot on the edge of a forest with both a river and a large cave in the nearby hills, Mighty Maynard set up a permanent camp. He and his hunters roamed further and further to find elk to feed their growing settlement. Maynard stayed behind more often. He was growing larger and was finding the long hunts tiring. Alvin assured him that participating was beneath a Mighty Hunter of his standing anyway.
One evening before the dismal rations, three of the best hunters came to Alvin just out of earshot of Mighty Maynard. The elk feasts of old had been reduced to rations of a few occasional bits meat mixed with roots, berries, and whatever else the hunters could find on their long walks home. They often shot only one or no elk at all.
“We are barely finding elk any more,” one of them whispered.
“We need to pack up camp and move further inland to find a herd,” another hunter added.
“There’s growing talk among the hunters about forming their own band or joining another one,” said the third hunter.
‘What are you whispering about over there,’ bellowed Mighty Maynard pointing his stick at Alvin. The other hunters trembled and slunk back toward a few trees behind them.
‘Ah, well, sir… we were, we were, ah, just were comparing notes on a big herd that seems to be in the area. Tomorrow’s hunt promises to be bountiful.’
‘That’s good. Glad to hear it. I would hate to have to move camp from this very comfortable spot.’ Might Maynard settled back in his chair, took another deep drink of his tankard of mead and sleepily closed his eyes. ‘Tell us the story of the day I brought down this big buck,’ he said pointing to the enormous set of antlers he was wearing.
Alvin went to get his props.
The next day the hunters returned home with no elk. But they did see signs that another hunting party had shot and butchered two large ones. So they only brought back roots and berries for a meager evening meal. When Maynard asked Alvin about this, Alvin told him that many in their band heard a vegetarian diet was healthier than all that high cholesterol red meat anyway.”
Alfred snickered and waited for Pete to respond. With his head still resting on his right hand, Pete moved only his eyes toward Alfred and groaned.
“Just wanting to see if you’re still with me, big guy,” Alfred knocked Pete’s arm out from propping up his head. Pete’s body slumped sharply to the right. He didn’t say a word as he gave Alfred a stony stare and settled himself into the back of his chair.
“Alvin tried his best to sound casual in telling Mighty Maynard that another band of hunters was in the area. Maynard eyes opened wide as he grasped for his big stick. ‘But not to worry, sir. They are probably rabbit or deer eaters.’
‘Alright then. No point in us getting excited about that then is there,’ Maynard replied as he closed his eyes and his stick fell to the side. Alvin needed to tell Maynard that a group of their best hunters and families had left the band. But that wasn’t the right time.
Over the following weeks a depressing pattern began to emerge as more hunters left and those remaining returned with nothing to share. As he drank more mead to kill the hunger pains and keep his spirits up, Mighty Maynard asked Alvin where his best hunters and their families had gone.
‘Oh, that. It’s nothing, sir. Their skills were really slipping and they’ve lost their hunting instincts. I encouraged them to join bands that eat easier game.’
‘Good thinking,’ Mighty Maynard replied, ‘we’re big game hunters and we don’t want our standards to slip because a few people can’t cut it anymore.’
‘My thoughts exactly, sir!’
It wasn’t too long before there was no elk because all the hunters had left. ‘What’s going on, Alvin?” Asked Mighty Maynard. “Where is everyone?’
‘They’ve all left us, sir,’ Alvin made sure he was well outside the range of the big stick.
‘Left us?’ Mighty Maynard started to bellow and rose from his great carved chair. ‘How could that happen after all that I did for them?’ He sunk back into his throne.
Alvin shrugged his shoulders.
‘I can’t understand it,’ Mighty Maynard said. ‘Everything was going so well.’”