I have nine chickens, supposedly for the purpose of laying eggs (you can see a few of them in the photo with my husband). I say “supposedly” because I’ve become so attached to them that I don’t really care how productive they are. They live in a coop in my backyard most of the time, except for when they’re pecking around inside my house, which happens more than I’d like to admit. Of course, there are the tell-tale signs of feathers everywhere.
My husband and I have been interested in chickens before it became cool, although we’re much more likely to talk about it now that it is in vogue. I’ll just come out with it: We love our chickens. They’re sweet. They like for us to pet them. They like to sit on our shoulder. They like to admire our jewelry. After a hard day, to see them running around joyously with worms in their mouths gets me back on track. They’re endless entertainment for our kids. They eat scratch from our hands and follow us around. One chicken farmer suggested we walk them on leashes, but that just seems wrong. People who say chickens are mean or dumb either have never owned chickens or just don’t get them the way some people don’t get cats or snakes (we have those, too).
So, what do these chickens have to do with a blog about leadership? There’s much we can learn from their serious side. These are hard-working animals. They’re tough birds who don’t know what it means to give up.
Well, if you’re currently challenged with leading effectively or struggling with managing a team, then I’d recommend getting yourself some chickens and follow their lead. To ensure a diverse group, get at least seven, and strive for a mix of male and female. Get different types. We have Rhode Island Reds, Black Silkies, Buff Orpingtons and Americanas (which lay blue eggs).
Everybody could stand to learn something from chickens. Here’s what I’ve learned from mine:
- Respect the pecking order. You need to respect the chain of command. So do the people who report to you and the people who report to them. Reporting structures are in place for a reason. They help ensure the flow of information, the sharing of knowledge and efficient use of resources, among other things. And if you have a group that’s particularly challenging, know that nothing’s forever. My chickens’ pecking order changes over time as new chicks are added to the mix.
- Scratch below the surface. Don’t take things at face value. Even when it looks like a bunch of dirt to me, my chickens scratch away to make sure they’ve discovered every edible morsel possible. They’re often rewarded for their hard work.
- Give clear and direct feedback. Don’t over think feedback or beat around the bush. Sometimes the best way is fast and direct so the recipient easily can put the feedback in context. Otherwise it’s like, “Remember that day when you…” My chickens let each other know how it’s going every second of the day through clucks, squawks, pecks and wing-flapping. They’re constantly communicating and adjusting.
- Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s business. Don’t be thin-skinned. If something does sting, don’t stay mad. Leaders need to stay above petty behavior. Don’t forget that not everything is personal. It’s business. So encourage whiners and complainers and gossipers to get back to work. There’s always plenty of work to do.
- Care for your group. My chickens stick together. They mix and mingle with our other pets every day, but they always have each other’s back. Even when they’re annoyed with each other, they come to each other’s defense. A team can’t truly thrive when even one member is unhealthy.
- Don’t be afraid to fly. Don’t think you can’t do something. We’ve found our chickens 20 feet up in the trees. Something probably scared them up there in the first place, but now they’re sitting pretty – taking in the lay of the land at their own pace. And imagine how inspiring that chicken is to the others.