Mackay: Great stories make great management lessons

President Abraham Lincoln was once criticized for referring to the Confederates in kind terms. A woman asked the president how he could speak generously of his enemies, when he should rather destroy them.

“Why, madam,” replied Lincoln, “do I not destroy them when I make them my friends?”

The moral of the story: Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.

Few people have had the ability to tell stories to illustrate points like our 16th president. I love good stories that teach a lesson. Here are a few of my favorites.

Lesson 1: A sales rep, an assistant and their manager are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp. They rub it, and a genie comes out. The genie says, “I’ll give each of you just one wish.”

“Me first!” says the assistant. “I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.” Poof! She’s gone.

“Me next!” says the sales rep. “I want to be in Hawaii, relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of pina coladas and the love of my life.” Poof! He’s gone.

“OK, you’re up,” the genie says to the manager. The manager says, “I want those two back in the office after lunch.”

Moral: Always let your boss have the first say.

Lesson 2: An old man, a boy and a donkey were going to town. The boy rode on the donkey, and the old man walked. As they went along, they passed some people who remarked it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding. The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people who remarked, “What a shame; he makes that little boy walk.” They then decided they both would walk.

Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So they both rode the donkey.

Now they passed people who shamed them by saying how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey. So they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal, and he fell into the river and drowned.

Moral: You can’t please everyone, so don’t try.

Lesson 3: A frog asked two geese to take him south with them. At first they resisted; they didn’t see how it could be done. Finally, the frog suggested that the two geese hold a stick in their beaks and that he would hold on to it with his mouth. So off the unlikely threesome went, flying south over the countryside. It was quite a sight.

Someone said, “It’s wonderful! Who was so clever to discover such a fine way to travel?” Whereupon the frog opened his mouth and said, “It was I,” as he fell to Earth.

Moral: There is no “I” in team.

Lesson 4: An empress with no children decided to hold a competition to determine who would succeed her when she died. She summoned all the children in the city to her palace and gave each one a seed. “Plant this seed, care for it, and in one year bring back the flower that grows from it. Whoever brings me the most beautiful flower will be the next empress.”

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