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.
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.’