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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

From the mouth of a pig, good management advice, May 13, 2007, 2D.

The 1995 movie “Babe” introduced the world to Farmer Hoggett’s talking sheep and barnyard animals.   Babe the pig was the star of the movie along with his co-star Fly the border collie, who became Babe’s adoptive mother.  Fly comforted Babe and counseled him on how to fit in on the farm.  She even tried to teach Babe how to herd sheep.

In one scene, Farmer Hoggett sends Babe into a corral with instructions to round up some sheep and lead them out.  Being Babe’s first time to undertake such a task, he is uncertain how to get the job done.  He first tries running into the sheep pen making dog noises, but the sheep ignore him.  Babe and Fly then have the following conversation:

Babe: This is ridiculous, Mom!

Fly: Nonsense, it's only your first try. But you're treating them like equals. They're sheep, they're inferior.

Babe: Oh, no they're not.

Fly: Of course they are. We are their masters, Babe. Let them doubt it for a second and they'll walk all over you.
Babe: They'll laugh at me.

Fly: Then bite them! Be ruthless, whatever it takes. Bend them to your will!

After biting one of the sheep on the leg, Babe is reprimanded by the sheep and begins to cry.  The sheep tell him that he does not need to be mean and bossing, rather, he should just ask them kindly.  Babe did, and the sheep willingly complied.  After completing the task, Fly asked Babe:

Fly: All right, how did you do it?

Babe: I asked them and they did it. I just asked them nicely.

Fly: We don't ask sheep, dear; we tell them what to do.

Babe: But I did, Mom. They were really friendly.

Babe’s experiences with the sheep demonstrate Douglas McGregor’s concepts of Theory X and Theory Y management.  McGregor’s theories describe two different attitudes that mangers have about workers.  A Theory X attitude is one that workers inherently dislike work and will try to avoid it if they can.  Theory X managers view workers as lazy, irresponsible, untrustworthy, and in need of firm and constant supervision. 

A Theory Y attitude is that workers desire to excel and are inherently good and eager to work.   Theory Y managers try to create positive work environments for their workers and provide them with growth and development opportunities.   Theory Y managers respect, trust, and look out for the best interests of the workers—which is typically returned by the workers.   Babe’s Theory Y attitude toward the sheep led to the film’s memorable ending.

The attitudes that managers have about their workers come out in the ways they work and interact with them.  Theory X managers tend to rely on coercion and intimidation to get workers to perform.  Theory Y managers use persuasion, inspirational appeals, and personal power.  Optimal work outcomes tend to arise under conditions of mutual trust, respect, and cooperation—a consequence of Theory Y attitudes.  Maybe we can all learn something from a talking pig.

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved