Check your chicken

In leadership there is a fine line to walk between empowerment and blind faith.  Ask too many questions, suggest too many changes, and you’re a micromanager.  Stand back and give your staff complete trust without oversight and you might end up like me.

I learned this lesson when I was first hired for a new position.  I was middle management in my first AZA accredited facility.  I was green, young, and hoping really hard that I didn’t screw it up.  These things combined with the fact I’m naturally prone to taking action – made me a little reckless.

On an early Sunday flying solo without my boss, the staff came to me, panic stricken and concerned about poor Charlotte, one of our chickens.

“She’s lethargic, barely eating, and egg-bound!  We can feel the egg lodged inside of her.”  They told me. We could hardly wait, right!?!  “No chicken will die on my watch!” I declared.

I called the veterinarian and let him know I was on my way with a near-death chicken.  The staff had the van ready to go with the crate strapped in the front seat.  I set off on my hour long drive to the vet.

As I drove, I frequently glanced over at Charlotte fearing each time I’d see a dead chicken in the crate.  I thought about whether or not I knew how to give CPR to a chicken.  Would that even work? Maybe I’d need a trach tube instead? (Okay I wasn’t quite that ridiculous but you get the point.)

Instead, as we drove, Charlotte looked fine to me.  She was resting calmly, clucking softly, and seemed to be enjoying the car ride.  I’d like to say this is where doubt crept in, but I had full, blind faith in my team.  This chicken was dying. They were sure of it.

On arrival, the vet met us outside.  I whisked her out of the van and rushed into the room through a side door.  He removed her from the crate and started palpating around.

“What exactly did you feel?” He asked objectively.

“They felt an egg lodged in there.  She’s been droopy and lethargic all morning.” I replied.

This was the first moment I started to feel silly.  I hadn’t even insisted on feeling what they felt.

He continued feeling around and then asked, “Come here, does this feel like what they were describing?”  I wondered how I would even know since I hadn’t even asked them to describe it to me.

“Well that feels like a bumpy, small, way in the wrong place, weird kind of egg.” I said.

“It’s the gizzard.”  He said grinning.  “I think she’s going to make it.”


We still laugh about this story today, but how could I have handled the situation differently?  Honestly, I don’t know jack about chickens and definitely didn’t then.  My staff was aware of that. I also knew my staff was more knowledgeable of chickens than I was.  What I didn’t know is how much they actually knew.  Turns out we were like the extremely vision impaired (but very well meaning) leading the blind.

I should have at least looked at the chicken myself, maybe done a little googling, even just assessing their level of expertise with questions like: Has this happened before?  Could we be feeling anything else?  Does anyone know the anatomy of a chicken well? I could have easily done that without making them feel like I didn’t care or didn’t believe them.

This why leadership isn’t easy, because it’s always a balance.  The extremely thin line between blindly trusting your people and doing your due diligence can cause bigger problems than unnecessarily rushing an animal to the vet on a weekend.

Always check your chicken.


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