Jane Goodall-Frederick G. Thompson
“Management Strategies for Organizational Success,” by Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE
Frederick G. Thompson
Jane Goodall as a management expert? Impossible, you say. Not part of her DNA, you’d argue. Just not her thing. That’s what I thought. But I was wrong. Jane hired me in large part for my management skills. Skills honed in the mean streets of New York City’s predatory asphalt jungle. Jane’s management skills, of course, were honed in the equally daunting jungles of East and West Africa. As partners committed to guiding the Institute towards achieving specific performance goals, Jane and I quickly discovered the importance of integrating our management styles. For Jane, this often meant swallowing hard as I sought to impress her with my big city grasp of sophisticated problem-solving techniques. For me, it meant trying not to appear too amazed when out of the blue she offered a perspective or solution that was not only unexpected, but uniquely insightful and effective. In short, I soon learned that the good Doctor knew a thing or two about management--and that if I kept my ears open, I might actually learn something from her. And learn, I did.
Here are just a few of the important management skills I took away from our partnership.
1. Look for the best in every situation. “Let’s assume good intent,” Jane would say. For her, trying to find the positive in any given challenge, was a foundational goal. A goal that provided a constructive context for any proposed action or negotiation under even the most difficult circumstances.
2. Loyalty is a virtue. Jane has often been often been criticized for being too loyal. For letting loyalty color her judgment. What her critics haven’t understood was that for Jane, loyalty is really the basis for building collaboration. Or as the management experts would say, the basis for building effective teams. Once, when I questioned Jane about this, she not surprisingly referenced the chimps, who had perfected the ability to forge collaborative bonds grounded in the ability to establish lasting loyalties.
3. Take time to listen. Jane is good at listening. She’d often say to me, “Are we sure we heard what they were telling us?” Often, as I look back, I was too quick to act. I hadn’t listened hard enough.
4. Less is more. Or, keep it simple. Again, Jane was always suspicious, and rightly so, of solutions that had too many moving parts. “If we can’t make this less complicated,” she’d say, “maybe we’re taking the wrong approach.” Indeed. Simplification usually leads to clearer understanding and ultimately to solutions that are easier to implement and support.
So there you have it. Jane Goodall, management guru. To be sure, working with Jane certainly offered the rewards of being associated with one of the planet’s most endearing and thoughtful individuals. But as a bonus, it also exposed me to a side of Jane few people appreciate.
Fred Thompson is a senior marketing communications executive who has led a number of major international consultancies and nonprofit organizations, including the Jane Goodall Institute.