A Fable For Management: The Ill-Informed Walrus

“How’s it going down there?” barked the big walrus from his perch on the big rock near the shore. He waited for the good word. Down below, the smaller walruses conferred among themselves. Things weren’t going well at all, but no one wanted to break the news to the Old Man. He was the biggest and wisest walrus in the herd, and he knew his business and they didn’t want to disappoint him or put him in a foul mood.

“What will we tell him?” whispered Basil, the walrus XO. He well remembered how the Old Man had raved at him the last time the herd caught less than its quota of herring, and he had no desire for that experience again. Nevertheless, for several weeks the water level in the nearby bay had been falling constantly, and it had become necessary to travel farther to catch the dwindling supply of herring. Someone should tell the Old Man. But who? And how?

Finally Basil spoke up: “Things are going pretty well, Boss,” he said. The thought of the receding water line made his heart grow heavy, but he went on: “As a matter of fact, the beach seems to be getting larger.”

The Old Man grunted. “Fine, fine,” he said. “That will give us a bit more elbow room.” He closed his eyes and continued basking in the sun.

The next day brought more trouble. A new herd of walruses moved in down the beach, and with the shortage of herring, the invasion could be dangerous. No one wanted to tell the Boss, though only he could take the steps necessary to meet the new competition. Basil approached the Old Man. After some small talk, he said, “Oh, by the way Boss, a new herd seems to have moved into our territory.” The Old Man’s eyes snapped open, and he filled his great lungs in preparation for a mighty bellow. But Basil added quickly, “Of course, we don’t expect any trouble. They don’t look like herring-eaters to me. More likely interested in minnows. And as you know, we don’t bother with minnows ourselves.”

The Old Man let out the air with a long sigh. “Good, good,” he said. “No point in our getting excited over nothing then, is there?”

Things didn’t get any better in the weeks that followed. One day, peering down from his rock, the Old Man noticed that part of the herd seemed to be missing. Summoning the XO, he grunted peevishly, “What’s going on, Basil? Where is everyone?” Poor Basil didn’t have the courage to tell the Old Man that many of the younger walruses were leaving to join the new herd. Clearing his throat nervously he said, “Well, Boss, we’ve been tightening up things a bit. You know, getting rid of some of the dead wood. After all, a herd is only as good as the walruses in it.”

“Run a tight ship, I always say,” the Old Man grunted. “Glad to hear that all is going so well.”

Before long, everyone but Basil had left to join the new herd, and Basil realized that the time had come to tell the Old Man the facts. Terrified but determined, he flopped up to the large rock. “Chief,” he said, “I have bad news. The rest of the herd has left you.” The Old Walrus was so astonished that he couldn’t even work up a good bellow. “Left me?” he cried. “All of them? But why? How could this happen?”

Basil didn’t have the heart to tell him, so he merely shrugged helplessly.

“I can’t understand it,” the old Walrus said. “And just when everything was going so well.”

MORAL: What the Boss likes to hear isn’t always what he needs to know.

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2 thoughts on “A Fable For Management: The Ill-Informed Walrus

  1. This is the story I tried to re-tell last week in one of our discussions. It was something that my boss at the University sent out to all his managers.

    Very timely and appropriate, I believe.

  2. It was an interesting and fun read. The moral at the end is one perspective. Another source of interesting questioning could come from asking why were the walruses so afraid of telling their boss the truth. It would seem the boss was not an approachable walrus. Also, it would seem that the boss walrus was simply delegating too much. He practically let the other walruses to run their business and he only cared to do something if somebody told him that something was wrong. It would have been better if the boss walrus would have tried to meet a few of the walruses in the herd, and perhaps some of them could have told him what was actually going on. The truth is that that boss walrus was a way too passive leader in my opinion. So, for me the moral of the story is, if you are boss, don’t believe everything they tell you, and go check for yourself 🙂

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