I was at a summer event a couple of years ago.  The festival was outdoors and was focused on the nature of our community.  There were Native Americans doing authentic dances, booths with fresh BBQ, dogs dancing with Frisbees and more than 20 other booths with hand made crafts.  As I live in Houston and it was 95 degrees outside, I was wandering close to the trees with my son and I saw a large crowd surrounding a massive box.  The box had no top and as I got closer I realized it was a fenced in area.  The area was 12 foot deep and about 8 feet wide.  The fence was solid plywood painted blue and it was about 4 ft high.  I held my infant son in my arms as I peered over the side and saw about 6 armadillos of varying sizes and about 12 kids and adults running around after them with thick leather gloves.

A man in a large cowboy hat told me that I was watching armadillo racing. He offered me some gloves as I handed my son to my wife.  I climbed in and was told to grab an armadillo  gently but firmly around their body and not their tail.  (Tails can break off!)  3 other folks had grabbed  armadillos as well.  The  kids without dillos stood along the side of the fence and watched.  I walked to the short side of the box where a large white starting line was painted.  I aimed my armadillo at the finish line along with the other folks.  I had never seen an armadillo race- let alone been in one.

When the whistle was about to blow I imagined my super fast armadillo running to the finish line.   After all, he was a trained racer.  He had been given a system with lines and a box to operate in. My armadillo had a quick step when I grabbed him- that was why I put him in this new race.  My competition had similar armadillos and they were all facing the finish line, but mine had an advantage- I was sure of it.  We all held the armadillos ready, facing  the goal and we were ready to release.

The whistle blew and I let my guy loose.  The armadillo ran past the critter to my right and then past the one to his left.  Then he suddenly did something I did not expect-  He ran hard left and off the course.  He ran past my left side and behind me to the back corner of the box and curled up in a ball.  I watched as the other human participants  raced along behind and slightly over their armadillos.  The coaches would tap their armadillos on the sides of their bodies to keep them focused on the finish line.  There was a winner.  It was not me.

I ran over and picked up my armadillo.  I reset him on the starting line, ready for the next race.  I was then focused.  I understood what it took to win.  I had to set my dillo up for success.  I held him at the ready, pointed at the goal.  As the whistle blew I followed my dillo and tapped him gently towards the gaol.  I aided him in his direction, letting him run the race until HE passed the finish line:  FIRST!

I had realized after the experience was over that I had found a microcosm of  the core to most of what I did as a manager.  I found a couple of  simple facts in what I had just experienced:

  • It is important to grab your team or process and start from the beginning.  Sometimes a person or process just needs to be grabbed up and pulled back.  Resetting is a critical part of business when you have something your are responsible for that is hiding in the corner.
  • Every manager should follow his team members or process and gently guide them towards their goals.  If a manager is constantly resetting their people or processes, they can never cross the finish line.  If left alone, the process or person will veer off course and end up in a corner.

I hope this helps managers understand the difference in guiding a team or process and grabbing it through control.  I found the whole experience very enlightening. If you ever have a chance-  grab an armadillo and race him!


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