The Man in the Yellow Hat seems to be overwhelmed by the adventurousness of his pet monkey, better known to the world as Curious George, but at closer inspection George’s owner has a style about him that allows the little monkey to have the freedom to be creative, while not stifling his enthusiasm. It is a model that could help every Rotary Club President understand that individual members need the freedom to fail if a club is to be successful.
If you are blessed with a four year-old you probably have some screen time with the Public Broadcast Service (PBS) young children’s programming known as PBS Kids. Among the many children’s programs offered by PBS Kids is the Curious George series that began in 2006 and based on the Curious George books.
Most people over 50 may remember Curious George from the seven children’s books written from 1941 to 1966 by Margaret and H.A. Rey. In both the book series and the PBS Kids program the owner of Curious George is the Man in the Yellow Hat (let’s abbreviate that to MITYH) who is never identified by a name. (A 2006 animated movie did name him, but I’m not going to acknowledge that feeble attempt to put a name on a character that the original authors intentionally left unnamed.)
What I find fascinating is the relationship between Curious George and the MITYH. For those who have not watched the PBS Kids program, The MITYH and Curious George live in a flat (presumably in New York) and George is the MITYH’s pet monkey. As an animal owner he would likely be arrested for not controlling his animal. George is often left alone for vast stretches at a time and he always get into mischief when the MITYH is absent. Fortunately for the MITYH, it seems that the cartoon world has no Humane Society or ASPCA to interfere with the relationship between a man and his monkey.
If you watch the show you will see a pattern of disaster that is always preceded by the MITYH leaving the flat and saying, “Be a good little monkey.” George then proceeds to solve a problem, understand how something works, or tries to be helpful, which always results in a mess. What is surprising is the tolerance level of the MITYH and his neighbors and friends. They always seem to understand that George will be George and all is forgiven. At the end of each episode George has a new understanding of how the world works and all problems are fixed and everyone ends up happy.
So what does this have to do with a Rotary Club? First, let me be clear, I’m not trying to infer that Rotarians are a bunch of monkeys…although I have been involved in some meetings where it seemed that the behavior of the members could be best described as Simian in nature. Rotarians are all human and typically a creative group of people. But because we all come from a business-related background our first thought as a Club President is to ‘manage’ the members. I would suggest that it is not the best strategy.
As volunteers, Rotarians represent a vast resource of knowledge, skills, and creativity that is unique in the world. Few organizations can put together the quality of people that Rotary attracts without offering significant compensation and benefit packages. Rotary’s only asset is its members, but it is an asset that is more valuable than gold regardless of the current market price.
But our members are an asset, not a commodity. Each day as a Club President is a gift. The Club President represents a group of people who belong to the Rotary Club simply because they want to be, and not because of any quid pro quo. It is a mistake to belief they belong because they want to be managed.
That is the magic of the MITYH’s style can be applied to the Rotary Club. He doesn’t try to ‘manage’ his monkey. Indeed, the MITYH acts as if it his pleasure to be able to simply be associated with George. Sometimes it almost seems that he intentionally finds reasons to leave George alone to explore his world and create mischief with the understanding that all will work out in the end.
Often the MITYH is embarrassed by George’s actions, but his embarrassment is short-lived, and never does the MITYH decide that he needs to control George more to save face. Nor does the MITYH decide that George must become more involved and assign George to a committee. The MITYH offers opportunities and then walks away. Never does he judge or attempt to manipulate…but he is always there to help clean up.
The Man in the Yellow Hat has a style that is unique in a world that values and teaches ‘managing’ other people in order to achieve his or her goals , but I think we could all learn a lot about working with talented volunteers from the example of empowering without fear of failure. Our members deserve no less.
Other Paul Kiser Rotary Blogs