4 Management Lessons Learned from Robin Hood

May 8, 2015
8 Min Read

Robin Hood is the 12th century bandit of legend who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. How in the name of sanity can a green-clad outlaw teach anyone about surviving or thriving in a modern business environment?

A lot, actually. Based on old ballads and updated for centuries, the story tells of Robert of Huntington, a minor noble who runs afoul of the local Sheriff of Nottingham. His story of skill and determination are as relevant to modern managerial techniques as they are to forest-dwelling archers. Let’s see how.

Have a clear plan

Prince John cruelly increases taxes, which the poor villagers cannot pay. Robin comes up with a plan: He and his Merry Men will rob the oppressing nobles and their overlord Prince John and give their wealth to the poor.

As a manager the most important action item is to have a clear plan—or at least a goal that the plan will get them to. And like Robin Hood, you need to inform your team what that plan is, even if you don’t give them all the details.

Kymberli Morris, project manager for a Fortune 500 company says, “Having a clear plan helps me manage, because I am able to ensure everyone on my team understands the greater goal; understand to what objective we are all working; understands the role he or she plays in the grand scheme of things. [I]t helps everyone on the team truly see how their contribution is a valid, valuable part of whatever it is we are undertaking at that time.

"At the risk of using corporate doublespeak, it really does make sure we are all on the same page and moving in the same direction. This is critical if any project is going to succeed."

Harness your team's excellence 

Robin encounters Little John (and is defeated by him) and Friar Tuck (and fights to a draw with him). Robin, instead of feeling intimidated by these men, recognizes their talent. He asks them both to join him in his fight against the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Not that a good manager lets her staff beat the tar out of her…but any manager worth her job finds the best people for every tasks and finds a way to harness their skills for the good of the team.

Dindy Robinson, HR Director for a higher education institution in Fort Worth, says, “It is so important to know the individual abilities of each member of your staff. And if you can use those to complement each other, it strengthens your entire team."

Morris says, “Not everyone is good at everything. Not everyone enjoys everything. When I work with a team, I always try to ask my staff individually what it is they like, what it is they are interested in, and what it is they feel they have an aptitude to do. Then, as much as possible, I redistribute the work accordingly so that people do things that either interest them or at which they excel.”

Thus the manager’s chief skill is recognizing the skills of others and channeling them. Just like Robin Hood.

When the going gets tough, get the inspiration going

Now that Robin has a team together, he sets about robbing the rich to give to the poor of Nottingham. But his merry men are outnumbered and outarmed. So Robin Hood gathers them together and inspires them with his words and purpose.

As good managers and Robin Hood both know, teams need enthusiasm.

“One project I took over,” Morris says, “was failing horribly: tremendous staff attrition, lack of job satisfaction, late deliverables, [and] high absenteeism. The first thing I did was meet with everybody, talk to them, and then redistribute the work. [I made] sure everyone knew how valuable even the grunt work was, and suddenly we went from 20 percent attrition and over 98% perfect attendance on the team. People [are] happy to this day. I still have members of that team calling me for advice.”

Robinson concurs. “When it comes to managing people, one size does not fit all. However, as a general guideline, people want to feel that the work they do is appreciated, and they want to feel that they are valued for their unique contribution. It's the manager's responsibility to determine what manages each employee. A good manager is able to take the staff that s/he is given and motivate them to achieve great things.

"My employees also know I will fight for them. If a deadline is unreasonable, I will work to get it changed. If more hands are needed on deck, I pitch in and work alongside them to finish whatever needs to be done. We're a close team, because we know we've got each others' backs.

Appreciate your team for the individuals that they are

Robin learns that Richard is back in England and with his men in disguise. He not only helps Richard reclaim his throne. but also saves Maid Marian from execution. Robin defeats usurper John with a minimum loss of life. As a result King Richard pardons Robin and his Merry Men.

A final word from Morris might well be a quote from Robin Hood himself: “I think the most important thing people need to remember about managing people is this, they are people: human resources—emphasis on human not just resources. Treat your staff as individual people, take an interest in them, and [show] how valuable they are to the team. Let them know the success of the team depends on every one of them.”

And hopefully, if you used Robin’s methods, you will save your country (the company) and earn a knighthood (or better yet, a bonus) for you and the merry men (and women) of your office staff.

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