Small improvements can make a big difference in any continuous improvement journey. David Galloway shares his thoughts and observes how leadership, innovative thinking, and lean six sigma principles can be used to drive safety and process improvements.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
All of us have a fear of some kind. It is only a matter of what causes our fear and to what degree we are affected. We are acutely aware of the presence of these fears in our lives. As leaders, we should also be mindful of potential fears as we encourage others to engage in learning, self-discovery, and continuous improvement. The following story brought this to life for me.
I was working with a group and helping them to learn how to use a structured approach for leading a project team. One of the elements of using this specific approach (Rapid Action) is that the team leader and all the team members take turns reading aloud a script that walks them through the process. While unorthodox, it has proven to be a very effective method for getting everyone engaged and in using basic project management techniques. As the three-day workshop was winding down, one of the participants came forward and wanted to speak with me privately.
Clarence was an operator who had signed up for the class with the intent of using this method to work on a problem with a small team. I had noticed that he was not participating in the class exercises and I wanted to speak to him about this anyway. His body language clearly indicated that he was uncomfortable. I soon learned why Clarence was not engaged. It was fear. As he spoke, his words came out in halting phrases…
“I just…just wanted to let…you know that…I really…really want to do this…but…but…I have problems with…with reading…in front of people…and…and…I’m not sure…that…that I can do this,” Clarence stuttered.
It’s a sad truth about the workplace: Just 30% of employees are actively committed to doing a good job.
According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report, 50% of employees merely put their time in, while the remaining 20% act out their discontent in counterproductive ways. These employees are negatively influencing their coworkers, missing days on the job, and driving customers away through poor service. Gallup estimates that the 20% group alone costs the U.S. economy around half a trillion dollars each year.
What’s the reason for the widespread employee disengagement? According to Gallup, poor leadership is a key cause.
Richard Sheridan, Founder of Menlo Innovations, describes an antidote for this lack of enthusiasm. He claims that “joy” is what is missing from the workplace. In a recent interview, Sheridan spoke about some of the ways that he purposely designed joy into the way that people work.
Many people assume that all leaders have the ability to influence others by virtue of their position. This is not always true.
You can be in a leadership role, yet lack influencing skills. Conversely, you can greatly influence others without being a formal leader.
VitalSmarts includes information on their website that outlines the top reasons why leaders lack influence. This post will recap the main points for each of these five reasons. I will add my own thoughts to those of the authors.
(Note: These concepts are based on the best-selling book Influencer. I have found the model that the authors propose around the six sources of influence to be practical – as well as easy to understand and apply).
Reasons Why Leaders Lack Influence
1. Leaders think it’s not their job.
Most leaders spend very little time consciously influencing others. They believe that their primary job is to come up with big ideas and then to implement them.
The key thought here is having a conscious effort to influence others. Whether they intend to do it or not, the actions of those in leadership positions have the potential to influence others. What rarely happens is for the leader to develop a strategic action plan for how to influence their employees on the vital behaviors that they desire. The assumption by many leaders is that if we give people a direction and the resources they need, then good things will happen.
I used to work for a manager who clearly had this mindset. He became frustrated when much of his organization repeatedly performed work in ways that were counter to his preferred approach. Yet, he never asked himself how he might influence some of the employees so that they would become more aligned and working on the right things.
Symbolism can be a powerful method to align an organization to a new way of thinking. Transformational leaders know that everyone will be looking at what they say and do. One of the basic tenets of effecting culture change is to create experiences that will reinforce the beliefs that you want people to hold. These experiences can be small words of support, a well-written sincere note, or a key policy decision. But they can also be bold acts that create a lasting impression and become the basis for stories and legends. Consider the following symbolic acts – one in world politics and one in business.
At the 1995 World Cup rugby final, Nelson Mandela put on a jersey of the South African Springboks, which under apartheid had been the exclusively white national rugby team. Mandela purposely chose to wear the uniform of the sport that black South Africans had always seen as that of the oppressor. The symbolism was unmistakable. It was an overt statement to millions of South Africans that he sincerely believed in reconciliation in the new democratic South Africa.
Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines, was trying to send a message to all his employees that the old rigid rules were history. He wanted everyone to make whatever decision they thought was right for the company and the customer. To make this clear, he staged a book burning, where the previous “rules manual” was ceremoniously set afire in a 55-gallon drum in the parking lot. This story soon spread among the employees. Message received.
The use of symbolism is not only within the purview of world political leaders or company executives. Creating experiences is only limited to your imagination and the thoughtful consideration of the message you want to send.
Is there an undiscussable topic that is preventing your team from working well together or is causing you to avoid working on the things that matter most? Then you may have an elephant in the room.
An elephant in the room is an obvious truth or condition that is being ignored or not addressed, or a risk nobody wants to discuss. Everyone knows these elephants exist – but we try to avoid them or refer to them obliquely. They are often discussed privately either before or after meetings. Our fear is that if we talk about these elephants, they will come to life and trample us. The problem is that unless and until we are free to identify and discuss these sensitive topics openly, they never go away.
“Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
– Henry Ford
Do you consider yourself an optimist, a realist, or a pessimist? Many experts have opined on this topic as it relates to leadership.
Dr. Martin Seligman, a prominent researcher in the field of optimism, claims that optimism or pessimism lies in the way you explain the events that happen to you. Our thoughts can cause us to assess events inaccurately. They can also cause us to jump to erroneous conclusions.
Strong leaders are seldom characterized as pessimistic. By definition, if someone in a leadership role sees mostly negative outcome, it will be nearly impossible to rally the masses to meet a difficult challenge.
On the other hand, it is uncommon for dynamic leaders to see themselves as pure optimists. Someone with this view could be seen as a Pollyanna – a person who doesn’t have a grip on reality and believes that everything will eventually work out, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
Rather, the consensus view is that the most effective leaders are those who lean toward optimism.