VOL. 125 | NO. 220 | Thursday, November 11, 2010
Smart Stuff 4 Work
Where the Goats Eat the Grass
Once upon a time long ago, I worked for the CEO (the Big Boss) of a very large corporation. One of my jobs was to develop presentations for him to deliver to employees, customers, investors and others interested in learning more about the company. One day, as he was reviewing a presentation, he turned to me, pointed to the screen and said, “What is that?”
“What is what?” I asked.
“What is that word?” he replied. Apparently, I had used a word he thought a bit too sophisticated. Big Boss said, “You been spending too much time in New York City with them (translated: those) eggheads. Quit puttin’ them kinda words in my presentations.”
You should know at this point, Big Boss was a very well educated, super-intelligent fellow. Although he was from south Alabama, he completed his graduate studies at a very prestigious university … above the Mason-Dixon Line. I suspect he was using slang for effect to make a lasting impact on an uppity fancy-word using subordinate. He then advised me, “When I’m talking to folks, I want to stay down where the goats eat the grass.”
In response, I began laughing hysterically!
Although I am also from a small Alabama town, I was neither familiar with the saying nor the eating habits of barnyard animals. Since Big Boss was very task oriented and detail-minded, he never hesitated to explain his ideas … in great detail. In the interest of time, I’ll summarize his observations related to consumption patterns of farm animals left unsupervised in a pasture.
- “The cows will eat the grass down to here.” To illustrate, he held his hands about four inches apart.
- “Sheep will eat the grass down to here.” He moved his hands closer, maybe two inches apart.
- “But the goats, the goats eat the grass right down to the ground! He then slapped his hands together inches from my face to emphasize his point.
Big Boss rarely left it up to you to grasp the full meaning of his teachable moments. He continued his constructive feedback, “You need to get your head straight, keep your feet on the ground and keep your words on the ground when preparing my presentations. Do you understand?”
The worst part of being on the receiving end of his lectures was that he was almost always right. His ability to glean profound lessons from ordinary, garden-variety events never failed to amaze me.
The lesson: Communicate clearly using straightforward, simple words
Chris Crouch, a small business consultant, can be reached at email@example.com.