Management and the Pied Piper

By: Darby Fazekas, January 17, 2017

The Pied Piper is said to have been hired by the people of Hamelin to rid their town of a troublesome rat population. The piper, with the aid of his magic pipe, led the rats into a river where all but one drowned. The greedy mayor refused to ‘pay the piper’ for his services and the piper left town vowing revenge. Years later while the adults were at church, the piper returned to Hamelin. Again with the aid of his magic pipe, he led his following out of the town. This time, however, he was not leading rats. He was leading the town’s children away—never to be seen again.

It is not uncommon for managers to expect their teams to ‘follow’ them. Unfortunately, there are no magic pipes. Holding the title of “manager” isn’t enough to demand a following. Leading is about presence, perseverance, influence and the troop’s faith in their manager’s ability to overcome adversity.

In the Pied Piper legend, the piper led the rats to their death, immediately losing his following. Though the piper achieved his goal, it was a win-lose situation; the rats being the losers. In organizations, a manager who leads to an unproductive or uncertain destination will similarly lose the faith of his or her following. Like the rats and the children, some employees have felt the sting of betrayal when they were sacrificed so someone else could achieve their goals (win-lose). Now, these employees look for a manager who establishes and achieves challenging goals and communicates those goals well. Lack of clarity in direction creates an unstable environment.

If you are leading a team or organization, ask yourself how strong you are in these competencies:

  1. Leading—Leadership is about presence and the troop’s faith in the your ability to overcome adversity. After all, you are not a leader if no one is following you.
  1. Goal Setting—Managers need to calibrate their compass often. One goal must not conflict with another, and every goal must be clearly communicated. After all, what good is a strong leader with a poor sense of direction?
  1. Accountability—Goals are useless without personal accountability. Salespeople, for instance, should be well aware of quotas and how often they are measured. Setting goals and allowing 80% of target to be acceptable is unproductive. Instead, set base goals and stretch goals. If a goal isn’t met, there should be a (known) action plan.
  1. Supervising and Coaching—Supervising should be done on a daily or weekly basis to ensure direct reports are on target to meet or exceed goals. This should be structured (for example, weekly meetings covering updates on the same topics). As issues arise, follow-up coaching meetings should be scheduled. Supervising and coaching meetings should be conducted separately as they have different purposes.
  1. Problem Solving—Most managers have a directive approach to problem solving: ‘Tell me the problem and I will give you the solution.’ That can be effective at times, but it is ineffective in growing a team and ultimately an organization. Collaborative problem solving takes more time and energy to execute, but is paramount for successful individual growth.

Unlike the Pied Piper, organizations don’t have the luxury of magic pipes or a disposable work force. They rely on their managers to lead, manage, coach and supervise their most valuable asset—Human Capital.