You don’t hear much talk nowadays about your guardian angel. When I was going to school we were taught about the big part our guardian angel played in keeping us safe and out of harm’s way.

Apparently the only place your guardian angel couldn’t save you was in a pub! My mother gave a dire warning to her sons that when a man (it was always men in those days) entered a pub, his guardian angel stayed outside!

Anaways, (as they say in the west) I don’t know if the guardian angels are doing any shifts these days. Maybe they only do days and don’t work weekends? Or gave up the ghost altogether in frustration, threw up their collective hands in despair and said. ‘Let them at it?’

What I am going to say to you is that whether or not you choose to operate whilst ignoring your guardian angel, the one being you must have is an understudy. No matter what we are doing in our everyday life, there should be at least one other person who can do it if for any reason we are suddenly not able to do it ourselves.

I know I told you this before, but for those of you with short memories, and for those of you who couldn’t give a rat’s ass one way or the other; I milked cows in one of my other lives.

I believed that nobody could milk my cows as good as I could. ‘They wouldn’t let it down to a stranger’, was one of my commandments, as well as, ‘the hoor of a kicker would burst anyone else going near her!’ I never missed a milking for nine years (they were ‘dry’ from November to January) and then I hurt my elbow and had to go into Navan hospital for surgery.

“That’s my father. He’s the understudy for my mother.”

Now I was forced to contact a ‘relief milker’, a young man by the name of Tom Keane. Tom showed great patience – not with the cows but with me, as I totally overdid his ‘line-up.’ I instructed him like a teacher addressing first-class and I festooned the milking parlour with numbers and notes.

After a couple of days I arrived home from hospital – all the time searching my brain wondering how I could possibly have been done without for those few days. But at least now I could talk Tom through this evening’s milking!

It was then my nine year old son set the record straight and sorted me out in two minutes. “Daddy, you know the black, number 39, the kicker, that you get it hard to milk?” Oh God, I thought, what harm have they done … Ian continued: “Well, Tom (his new best friend) put no kick-bar on her and there was no cursing or anything like that, and he just miked her the same as the rest of them without a word!!”

No story stands on its own and the sequel to this one is that I took heed and learned my lesson – and I still practice that lesson to this day. Only for torn tendons in my elbow, I might never have acquired the certainty that nobody is indispensable. For the remainder of that dairying life, I used Tom regularly and enjoyed the freedom it brought to me and my family.

This lesson applies not only to farming, but to business and in fact all the things you do around your own house. One other person should always know how to do even the simplest of chores in preparation for the day you are not there to do it. Never leave a document, key – or even money, where one other person doesn’t know about it.

If you are a manager or a business person, this piece of advice is way more vital. ‘Doers’ always have the urge to rush and ‘do it myself’, but that attitude will cost you some day. Too many managers keep too much knowledge to themselves.

I suppose this goes back to a fear of ‘cutting a rod to beat yourself’ – as in training someone to take over your job. But, someone needs to be able to do your job. Weak managers view subordinates as a threat and keep the workings of the business close to their chest

Good bosses don’t wait until the last minute to train an understudy. They pick possible successors early in the game and start delegating different parts of the job to them.

One of the trickier situations is where a parent is the farm or company boss. The son or daughter who is the ‘understudy’ should gradually be given responsibility and shown that ‘the boss’ has confidence in their ability to handle it. This will encourage the ‘understudy’ to take initiative and develop their skills.

Ah Lads … thank you … thank you; I appreciate your advice and concern, but I don’t see the same urgency in allowing my understudy to write this column …!

Don’t Forget

It is better to teach children the roots of labour than to hand them the fruits of yours.