One of the greatest fallacies of leadership is believing that saying it out loud – or writing it down will make it so.  If we were leading programmable units it might be so.  But we know it just ain’t so – through experience.

Here is the story of a well-meaning group of safety experts in a manufacturing plant.  It was a classic dirty, hot, dangerous work place.  The safety guys came in as part of a new initiative to try to make the environment as safe as possible.  In their first safety walk-around…that’s what they do, they walk around and see if there are any easy first hits; those are the “duh – why haven’t we seen that?” kind of fixes that are easy to do, workers like and quickly make the workplace more comfortable and safe.

Those are the changes that safety teams use to convince plant floor workers that they aren’t just some sissy-boys from headquarters “coming down here to tell us what to do.”

As luck would have it, the team found their easy fix.   There were no safety mats anywhere in the plant.  Safety mats are those squishy mats that workers can stand on that allow them to be on their feet for an 8 hour shift without taking as much toll on backs, shins, feet and all.  That was going to be their golden ringer – bring the first change in that would be enormously popular and everyone would be happy the Safety Team was on the job.

When the mats arrived, they were placed around all the presses during first shift.  The Safety Guys talked to the first shift guys about the advantages the mats brought and had them try them out for comfort.  The workers on the line were pretty happy as the mats were laid and the Safety Team left for the day. images

The next morning, the mats were gone.  They were unceremoniously piled in a corner, out of the way.  As it turns out, the second shift came in, found the mats – with no explanation for why they were there.  No one had asked the second shift crowd if they wanted any mats.  From their perspective, it was just another way to be told what to do.  Someone had decided this should be good for them and just did it.  The workers weren’t impressed and kicked all the new mats aside without even trying them out.  Do their actions defy logic?  Perhaps.  But their behaviors are easily understood when we consider people’s hunger to be included.  As it turned out, the Safety Team came back to the plant, met with the second shift workers.  When asked, they approved, convinced it was a good idea and the mats went back down.

So the myth of THEY WILL DO IT ‘CAUSE WE SAY SO is debunked.  People want to be involved.  That means the leader must rely on being inclusive and communicative – we call it ‘irresistible leadership.’

Trying to motivate through shame is just a form of corporate bullying.

The leadership myth is debunked:  people are NOT motivated through being shamed. This is the continuing series of the “rules of leadership have changed.”  images

I worked in an organization once where the VP I worked for had what he called, “the wall of shame.” Every time someone made a notable mistake, he would post the person’s picture on the wall with the description of the transgression. I should pause and tell you that this man had a wicked sense of humor – emphasis on wicked. He was a great businessman and took pride in treating people as though they owed him.  And what did he motivate through his behavior:  honesty?  full disclosure? unified effort toward common goal?  Hardly.

Another leader I worked with was the polar opposite.  When there was a loss (or a win), she conducted a “learn review.”   The review focused on what worked, what didn’t work so well, how did people perform, how did we respond to market changes?  It was not an atmosphere of blame or fault-finding. Her team grew in proficiency with every opportunity.  People who didn’t improve were helped to find positions that better complimented their skills and preferences.  Her wall was filled with acknowledgements and accolades and she led the team that everyone wanted to be on.

So the rule of “blame and shame” is no more.  High performance teams don’t look for fault, they look for effort; having the right person in the right job and ways to be nimble and remove obstacles.  A leader who shames and bullies may enjoy short-term gains, but the long-term outlook is bleak.

Leaders who help their teams grow through wins and losses build hope, loyalty and success for the organization.

The 2nd leadership myth is debunked: Making a Mistake is Not a Sign of WEAKNESS.

This is second in a series of the “rules of leadership have changed.”

I work with an executive who is on the cutting edge of changing how her company does business.  It is a company that has been very clear about the difference between “winning” and “losing” (ergo – being right vs. being wrong). 

The company has traditionally held loss reviews when they didn’t win big deals – to determine whom to blame so they could extract their “pound of flesh.”    Their’s is a culture that rewards winners (hooray) and punishes losers (boo – get rid of the bums!).  You know, that just won’t work anymore. They may be doomed to a slow and painful death if they don’t realize their mistake.   

Here is the fallacy:  if I win, midst the celebration, I may forget to review why I won – what was strategy and what was luck.  I won’t know the difference between what I did right so I can repeat the behavior), what didn’t work (to not repeat it) and what was just good timing (luck).    On the other hand, in their culture, if I lose – then a loss review becomes a search for who to blame.  It is not an attempt to LEARN.  Maybe in the new world we should opt for LEARN reviews instead of loss reviews. 

ImageLet’s get back to this notion of making mistakes is a sign of weakness– if we are aware that making mistakes is a natural – no, important element of discovery (remember, it was Thomas Edison – holder of more than 1000 patents – who said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”)  then we can be more clear on what success should look like.  We can be more mindful of progress being made and more willing to change course or stop to cut our losses.  In that case, making mistakes become valuable lessons – but only if we hold “mistakes” to be important!

Back to my client for a moment…here’s the truth – she is more valuable as an executive who has mistakes sprinkled among her successes that she ever would if all she had known was success.  It takes courage to say with conviction, “that was a mistake” and then note the circumstances (for growth).   It take courage in a culture that would recognize ONLY winners and losers.  What’s your culture?  Are you courageous?   

BTW, we will deal with the courage of transparency in another blog.

So the second “rule” that must go is “making a mistake is a sign of weakness” or that making mistakes is bad.  The more creative way to approach change and growth is to see what works and what does not.  In the world of flexibility and change, knowing what not to repeat is as important as knowing what to do next! 

 We will spend more time on the changing rules of leadership and how to be effective in this new world. Come along for the ride, it should be fun. In fact, feel free to join the conversation – guaranteed it will change!