The Jackass and His Purchaser: A Lesson for Managers

My young son told me that he had ended his friendship with his best friend.  The story is his best friend has become friends with another boy that my son judged to be a troublemaker making his best friend one too.   I asked him what his friend has done that makes him think he will now cause trouble.   With conviction he said, “Nothing mom but you said that I should not hang around people who are troublemakers because that will make me one too.”  Wow, I had done that.  But that was not my intent or the message I wanted to send my kids.

In Aesop’s Fables, there is story I remembered called “The Jackass (Ass) and His Purchaser.”  The story goes like this:

A man wished to purchase a jackass, and decided to give the animal a test before buying him.  He took the jackass home and put him in the field with his other jackasses.  The new jackass strayed from the others to join the one that was the laziest and the biggest eater of them all.  Seeing this, the man led him back to his owner.  When the owner asked how he could have tested the jackass in such a short time, the man answered, “I didn’t even need to see how he worked.  I knew he would be just like the one he chose be his friend.”

The moral of the story is that while a person is apt to be judged by the company he (or she) keeps, that doesn’t mean that you have to choose to be like the company you keep.  People need to be judged based fairly based on their merits, actions and behavior.  I shared this with my son, and he has resumed his friendship. 

In applying this to the business world, I have seen managers judge their employees solely on what they look like, what they wear or who they associate it.  Maybe, it was ingrained in them from their parents or their own personal biases but really there is no excuse for it.  First, by doing this you are heading towards discrimination which is illegal.  Second, it is not smart business. 

Mangers should be making decisions regarding employees based on sound business practices such as an employee’s proven performance and behavior.  A manager needs to be factual and have sound documentation to eliminate the perception of biases and personal differences.  A manger should never call an employee “lazy” “troublemaker” etc. because those are judgment words.  Instead, managers need to describe the behavior forming these perceptions such as “you (employee) appear to lack motivation because you have come into work late everyday for the past two weeks, have taken an extra hour for lunch everyday, and have been missing deadlines.”

Trust me when I say I understand managers feel they need to make judgments every day, and sometimes it is a good thing. When used right, it can keep an organization out of trouble and employees out of danger (i.e. closing down because of a snowstorm). It can help managers make wise choices, rather than blindly stumbling along because they are afraid to make a judgment call. However, if a manager is going to judge an employee based on non-legitimate business reasons, be ready for the ramifications of that decision.  Maybe the donkey would have been a good worker if the man had just put him to work.  I guess we will never know.  Have you seen this in the workplace? 

photo credit


About Patricia Knight
Hello and welcome. My name is Patricia Knight. Thank you for taking the time to view my blog. I’m a Human Resources professional who is currently pursing an MBA at the University of Nevada-Reno. I am an analytical, detail-oriented professional who believes that collaboration and negotiation are critical for successful employee relations between leadership and employees.

2 Responses to The Jackass and His Purchaser: A Lesson for Managers

  1. What a great post, Patricia. It’s really hard to avoid biases to judge people. I have no full-time job experience but I’ve heard during interview some interviewers choose future workers by their appearance first in order to attract customers, instead of abilities. Maybe in America this is not happened very often but I still think that it’s not a good way to hunt future workers. What you think, Patricia?

    • Thanks for the comment & thoughts. I think most employers succeed pretty well at making sure to hire individuals based on knowledge, skills, & abilities. With that said, there are some organizations that stretch that & do put bias in their decisions. These are the ones that you hear about on tv getting sued.


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