We all have heard the phrase “There are more ways than one to skin a cat.”, and I am sure that most people understand it but I don’t think that it gets as much credit as it should. The first time that that quote held weight on me was in a situation that I experienced while at a training exercise in the military.
I was stationed in 25th Infantry Division based out of Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. My unit was just returning home from a deployment in Iraq and it was time to get back on the grind. As an E-4/specialist, myself and many of the lower ranking soldiers were stuck doing the garbage details that nobody wanted to do it. One phrase that I learned early on is to “Work smarter, not harder”. This day in particular, I was ordered to carry 10 long wooden boards from one area to another.
It was not a hard task but rather just very time consuming. We had plenty of time to kill while getting the area set up so I felt that it would be best to take my time and not run myself ragged. I thought of the phrase and decided to pick up my first board and start the walk to deliver it to its designated location. As I picked it up I hear, “WTF Rivera! What are you doing?” shouted from Sgt. *****
I dropped the board and immediately stood at parade rest (a formal stance for a soldier to stand in when talking to a superior NCO). I reply that another Sgt. gave me orders to take these boards to the cleared out location across the field. He then responded that I am doing it wrong and to take 2 at a time. Without the initial Sgt. being there, I was forced to follow the orders of the new Sgt. So I go back and grab another boar and stacked in on the first, then start making my way to the provided location.
On the way back to get another 2 boards, Sgt. $$$$ came over and also thought it was ok to tell me that I was doing it wrong. “Load 4 logs on that tarp over there and drag them so that you can take them faster.” I was beyond frustrated and that’s when the “There are more ways than one to skin a cat” and I opened my mouth.
“My orders were to take these 10 boards from this location and make a pile in that location. If I was to take 1 log at a time, 2 logs at a time or struggle with dragging 4 at a time on a tarp, the end result will still remain the same, so can you get off my back and let me do my job?”. Of course that didn’t quite end well for me and I caught myself walking the logs back and forth from one spot to another throughout the day but the message was engraved into my skull. A few years later I was out of the military and I was in a leadership position working as a security guard at a government contracted facility.
I observed a guard working on a task that needed to be done before his shift was over. I asked him what he was doing and why he was doing it that way. He responded, “Because the end result would be as my boss wanted it.” As soon as he said that, it instantly brought back the horrible punishment that I got carrying the logs. I gave him advice on a way that may possibly be easier but allowed him to continue with whichever way that he chose.
From that day on I understood the power of micro-managing and a great deal of what it takes to be a good leader. A leader isn’t somebody that demand ways to do something but is somebody who trusts in his followers. Somebody who can give advice and supervise to make sure the end result will be completed satisfactory and in a beneficial way for everybody in the end.
To this day I catch myself using that story to explain to bosses, supervisors, parents and owners to help paint the picture that there are many ways to accomplish a task. I have had a ton of snapback from people not willing to listen but I have also had a lot of great feedback from people who applied it and got a great end result. Hell, many actually learned themselves of better ways to get jobs done so that they can teach it the next time around.
So next time something needs to be done, understand that there are usually more ways than 1 to accomplish something and think about the number 10 rule.