Lessons in Bird Hunting
I have two beautiful bird dogs, Sage and Cash. Sage is a white Setter, and Cash is a tri-color Brittany with big liver-colored spots. During the off season they lay around the house, lazily propping their chins on each other’s hind quarters, occasionally yawning or grunting in domestic bliss. You’d never know these dogs love to hunt. Each October at the beginning of bird season, we do a little hunting near Columbus, Texas, about 90 minutes west of Houston. Needless to say, the weather is still warm in southeast Texas at that time of year. After an hour or so of running full out in the field, the dogs begin to melt under the hot sun. They get thirsty and fatigued and need frequent breaks for water and rest. By the end of the second hour, their noses stop working, and they lose interest altogether. During the first hour, they range 20 yards in front of me, criss-crossing back and forth in a graceful ballet, greedily covering the terrain before them. By the second hour, they no longer work as a synchronized team and slow to a labored saunter, just under my feet. “Hunt ’em up! Bird in here!” I call. No response. All I can do is watch them with their sorry heads hung low, paunches swaying back and forth as they shuffle along, eyes bloodshot, tongues drooping. I nudge Cash with one of my boots and he just collapses on the ground. Sage follows suit. It’s pretty sad. The hunt is over. They have nothing left, and it is only mid morning.
What happened to those maniacal ornithophiles from the end of last season, when the temperature in north central Kansas was a cool 20 degrees, and they were hunting birds like heat-sinking missiles? They were so into their work that I had to constantly give the “Whoa” command to keep them from breaking their points and flushing birds, or even catching birds outright. Now, under the hot Texas sun, I can’t get them to respond. As we say in Texas, “That dog won’t hunt.” Trying to get them to do anything at this point would be like pushing a wet noodle up hill. It can be pretty frustrating trying to get someone to do something that just isn’t in them. The problem is that, for early season bird hunting in southeast Texas, I should not be using a Setter and a Brittany. Instead, I should be using a couple of Pointers. Pointers are built for the hot weather with their lean, short-haired bodies and all-day stamina. I am simply working with the wrong staff. I prefer to work with a team that I have to reign in rather than push. In other words, I’d rather say “Whoa” than “Go.”
Admiring Your Staff
If you don’t admire them, you have the wrong staff. If you can’t honestly boast about their abilities, temperament, and accomplishments, you need to make some changes, right now. Staff fall into several categories. You have the hapless and inept, who don’t know how bad they are. You have the brown-noser do-nothings, who do know how bad they are, but think you don’t. You have the mumbling martyrs, who aren’t as good as they think they are, and who constantly break the rules, but are sure they’re always doing you a favor in the process. You have the competent plodders, who don’t know how good they could be if they just had a little drive and ambition. And then, you have the smooth operators. These are the people who know how good they are. They’ve got moxie. They understand the system and make it work for them and your practice. Think “Radar,” from M*A*S*H. They anticipate all your moves, solve problems before you know they exist, keep you informed and on task, never make excuses, own their mistakes, and have your back. You need an office full of these people. Sit down right now and draw up a list of your staff members. Assign each of them one of the above categories. Any staffer that doesn’t rate smooth operator, or can’t become one in a couple of months, has to go.
As I learned a long time ago, it’s hard to soar with eagles when you work with turkeys. Solution: work with eagles. They are out there in every compensation, experience, and education strata. You just have to be willing to take a stand against mediocrity. I can hear you whining right now. “I can’t afford better staff.” Yes you can. Better staff will make you more profitable and able to pay them. “I don’t have time to train a new person.” Baloney. You trained the ones you have now, and if you had better people, they’d be training the new staffers. “I can’t let anyone go or the office will collapse.” Nonsense. If you don’t bite the bullet and make changes right away, you won’t get any better. Hire and train an eagle, then decide who to let go. Then, keep on hiring and training eagles and replacing your turkeys until all the turkeys are extinct.