The Tale of the Tail

Posted January 30, 2009 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

My daughter’s been listening to a song called “Shake a Tailfeather” by some hip artist I’ve never heard of before (you know you’re getting old when…).  It reminded me of a management prof I had about 15 years ago and a story he told about “tails” in the workplace.

The year was 1994, the prof was a guy named Monte Christie (no  kidding) and the course was called “Fundamentals of Management”.  After a couple of years attempting to manage people without a safety net, I had decided to enroll in a continuing education program to see if I could learn how to navigate my way a little better.

Now, as we all know, evening classes can be a little bit hit or miss in terms of what you get out of them, but Monte Christie was a true gem.  One of my favourite discussions in his class centred around the professional reputation we all build as leaders/managers.

As I remember it, the analogy Monte used was that, whenever we join an organization, we grow “tails”.  The tails represent every decision we’ve made, every issue we’ve tackled (or caused), every step and every miss-step.

Some people’s “tails” are long and strong and other people’s tails are shredded and ratty.  The challenge when you “grow up” in an organization is that everyone see’s the evolution of your tail… which, if it’s been a bumpy ride, can lead to a bad case of pigeon-holing and glass ceiling-itis. 

People who leap from organization to organization can reinvent their tails (and tales).  The first tail you see when they join is a little fuzzy at first and made up more on how you think it should look based on their in-coming reputations.  But, as each decision or act is carried out, the tail becomes clearer.  And, unless the owner of a ratty tail has done some serious self reflection and growth, his or her true tail will eventually emerge.

So, what kind of tail are you growing in your organization and in your leadership career?  Is it strong and long, or frayed and flaking?  Tails take time to grow, mere minutes to damage and potentially a lifetime of concentrated effort to strengthen.  Pay attention to your tail… it’s the only one you’ve got and it’s following you around, whether you like it or not.

Happy leading!

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  1. Did you attend this course @ Algonquin? Monte Christie is my Dad. He passed away several years ago but it was great to find this. Brought back some memories. Thanks

    • LeaderTalker says:

      Hi Bill… I did attend the course at Algonquin. I’m really sorry to hear about your dad’s passing. He was truly a gifted teacher. I only took one night class with him in the early 90’s, but he made a lasting, life-long impression on me… as I’m sure he did on many, many others. He had a real knack for bringing theoretical concepts to life and a genuine passion in what he was teaching. All the best.