“You Can’t Fool the Chickens”

December 18, 2009 at 3:28 pm Leave a comment

As I lay sleepless in bed one night (I know – more information than you needed), I remembered a [true] story I had heard as a youth and which left a lasting impression on me.  As I reflected on it, I was reminded of its powerful example and multiple applications to life.  I thought “I’ve got to share this with the managers and leaders in my company”.  So I hopped out of bed, and in just a few minutes was able to find it on the internet.  For the sake of brevity, I’ll paraphrase…

The story is told by Cordell Vail, an apparently good and loving father who was determined to create a culture of personal responsibility and hard work in his family.  He did so in part by making certain that each of his children,  from the time they could walk, were given “jobs” and responsibilities that would stretch them just a bit, and which would require shoulder-to-shoulder training and coaching.  He knew that equipped with this experience and culture they would go on to accomplish anything they would choose in life, thus helping them to live happier, more fulfilled lives. 

One of the older children, a son, about 10 years old, was give the assignment to take care of a few chickens they’d purchased just for the purpose of providing another family work opportunity.  The father had grown up on a farm and so he knew a little bit about chickens and how to raise them. He knew three things are required to produce eggs:  First, you have to give them the right amount of food every day. Second, you have to make sure they always have water. Third, you have to keep the eggs gathered every day. If you leave eggs in the nest then they will stop laying eggs. They built a nice chicken coop, and then the son was assigned to: 1) feed the chickens the correct amount of food EVERY day, make sure all the water trays were full EVERY day, and gather the eggs from the nests…EVERY day.

The boy was the hardest worker of all the kids, and even seemed to like to work, but there was one small problem.  He was a great starter, but not a great finisher…It was hard for him to stay with the job until it was done.  Every day when the father checked up on his work, he’d find that his boy had either watered the chickens and feed them but forgot to gather the eggs, or he would gather the eggs and water them but forget to feed them. He just could not seem to remember to do all three every day.

Now, chickens usually don’t lay an egg every day, but one every day and a half or so. This family had twenty one chickens, and they were laying about fifteen to seventeen eggs a day, so they were really cranking ‘em out!  Which is why the father checked on his son’s work every day. If he missed one of the three things, he would have to do it for him or the chickens would  stop laying.  He just couldn’t teach his son to do all three every day. 

Then he had an idea…  He decided to “give” his son the chickens!  From now on, they would be his…and he told him that they would buy the eggs from him every day.  He told his son that he’d have to take the money he made from selling them the eggs and buy the chicken feed for the chickens to eat each week. Then, whatever money was left over, he could keep. The boy’s eyes lit up; he was extremely excited!

From that day on, the boy’s performance was perfect; he never missed a day!  In time, they put a chart up on the refrigerator to track the number of eggs each day.  The parents were so pleased they even paid him better-than-grocery-store-prices, and the boy was making a great little fortune…for a  10 year old.  Each week they’d go to the feed store and buy one sack of feed for the chickens – enough to last until the next week. He was the richest kid on the block, and his father was delighted.

Several weeks later, the father began to notice a strange occurrence on the refrigerator door. The chart began to look something like this: 18, 18, 17, 17,17, 16,16,16, 16, 15,15, 14,14,13,13,12,12……production was going down…slowly.  The father didn’t say anything, but knew what was happening. The boy was not out of feed at the end of each week like he had been and should be. But they were his chickens and he wanted his son to learn the lesson well by having them be his own chickens, so he just watched for a while.

As the weeks progressed, the numbers on the refrigerator door continued to go down. One weekend when it was time to buy feed again the father went over to the chicken yard to find his son and take him to the feed store.  With a sheepish frown on his face the boy told him he couldn’t go…that he didn’t have enough money  because there had been so few eggs that week.  When asked if he knew why, the boy said the chickens just hadn’t laid enough eggs, so he didn’t have the money. When further queried, he said he had feed them every day and never missed. He said he had watered them every day and never missed. He said he had gathered the eggs just like he’d been told – every day and never missed. But for some reason they had stopped laying eggs.

Then the father asked him if he had cut down the amount of feed he had given the chickens every day. Shocked that his father would have thought of that, he just looked down and nervously kicked little rocks with his foot. Finally, after a long silence, he admitted he had cut down the amount of feed he’d given the chickens each day.  He said he thought if he gave them less food, he’d make more money.  The father then looked his son in the eyes and asked him if he thought he had been fooling him. Tearfully he admitted he thought he had fooled him.  Finally, he asked the boy (and here’s the real lesson)… ………………“did you fool the chickens?”

“Did you fool the chickens?”…      What a powerful question and concept! 

In life, you can fool everyone else (even yourself), but you can not fool the “chickens”.  So, what are the “chickens” in your world?              Some examples come to mind:

Your employees –  Do you push, push, push, without praise and feedback?  Do you motivate with fear, empty promises, or false hopes?  Or do you keep these “chickens” well-fed, secure, and well informed?

Your work –            Do you procrastinate important work, only to give it cursory attention at the last minute?  Do you show up late…leave early?  Or do you give every minute of your work-day all the passion, attention, and focus it deserves?

Your customers –    Do you do just what you can “get away with”?  Or do you follow the “Golden Rule”  in your business dealings?

Your family –                Do they see your worst?  Or your best?  Are you faithful to your promises and to their expectations?

Your body –            Do you sacrifice long-term wellness for temporary pleasure?  Or is this “chicken” getting the rest, nutrition, and activity it needs to produce great eggs?

Your mind –           Linus Pauling once said “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”  Ideas come from reading, listening, and studying great sources of information.

Your heart –            Have you “felt” today?  Do others know you have?  Have you listened empathically, or expressed appreciation, love, or wonder?  These are the greatest investment we can make in this chicken.

Your integrity –       Do you pass the test my 7 year-old  passed when I asked her, “what’s more important…being honest or being rich?” …”honest, or beautiful”…   “honest, or smart”…   “honest, or free”…   “honest, or loved”…   then  “honest, or alive”…  She passed with flying colors….”Honest!”

Your self esteem – Whenever our chickens – any of those listed above – are under cared for or malnourished, we fail.  And when we fail, our self esteem suffers.

The old adage is true…”What goes around, comes around”…   Or, “We reap what we sow”.   Every day we see examples of people trying to cheat this principle, but it can’t be cheated.  We may think (for a moment) that we can be unkind, deceitful, dishonest, arrogant, selfish, greedy, gluttonous, callous, or just plain lazy…without consequence.  But the harsh truth is that we can’t…we really do “reap what we sow”…in one way or another…….because…..

…..”You can’t fool the chickens”!

Lead on…



Entry filed under: consistency, leadership, management, motivation, Perserverance, Sales & Marketing, Service. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

You + Motivation = Success Do They Know How They’re Doing?

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