Gepetto Management #1

December 3, 2009

Everyone who has ever managed people should aim to be a “Gepetto Manager.”

For those who do not remember Gepetto, he was the old carver who made a wooden marionette named Pinocchio in the famous story and Walt Disney film.

Pinocchio, the puppet, dreams of becoming a real boy.  The famous story is about how he learns to have a conscience and become a real boy after several adventures.

But Pinocchio, the puppet, could only move when someone else pulled the strings.

A lot of employees are like that.  They are not empowered to move on their own by the constraints their bosses put on them.  Sometimes it is on purpose; sometimes due to lack of confidence; sometimes they just don’t understand what they can do and what they cannot do.

They become their bosses puppets.  Good to undertaking tasks but never equipped with responsibility.  Afraid to take initiative.

Pinocchio, the puppet, had problems.  Lying, for example.  When he lied, Pinocchio’s nose grew and gave away his lies.  This might be a handy adaptation if Pinocchio were your employee.

Our goal as Gepetto managers is to turn our puppets into fully functioning boys.  Empowering people so they can make decisions.

But unlike Gepetto, managers don’t have any magic wand they can wave.  But managers do have a lot of techniques that help our employees evolve and develop.  They can be our way of cutting the strings and getting our puppets to stand on their own.

One of my favourite things to do with people learning their role is, after six months or so, to observe something they are doing.  Then I ask them what they have just done.  They usually tell me like – it was nothing.

That’s when I point out they were operating without strings.  I ask if they would have been capable of doing the same thing six months before.  And might point out a similar situation that they were not capable of managing by themselves back then.  That’s when they realize that they are learning something.

My goal as a Gepetto manager is to create a learning and responsibility trajectory for each person, depending on their talents.  Then train them to acquire the skills needed to enhance their talents and bring them to an effective level in their job.

I love it when it dawns on them that they have progressed and are doing things they couldn’t before.  I also believe that this realization is important to development.  It gives them confidence that they are in fact growing in their profession.  It also reinforces that work brings personal development.  There is no greater reward.

When working with people you are trying to develop, you have to always ask the questions – “Am I setting them up to stand on their own?  Am I turning a puppet into a boy?”

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