An Adjustment of My Leadership Worldview

Originally posted on my blog, From Drunk to Monk.

Often improving means having your current world view adjusted in a violent way. I don’t mean the getting punched in the face kind of violent. I mean one moment you are certain in your beliefs and the next you are certain they were all wrong. That can be difficult to accept but the best among us embrace these opportunities.

I had a situation like this happen at work yesterday. I work in the automotive industry for an excellent and well-known company. Despite this, in our facility there exists a rift between “management” and “employees”. It’s more pronounced in some areas than in others. In fact, some groups work together to produce inspired results. The reality is we all succeed or fail together because we are one team.

We need to go back to basics to establish a solid foundation. That means re-implementing proven processes that have fallen by the wayside over the years. That’s a good thing and an important step forward. Sometimes you need to go slow before you can go fast.

As a leader, my job is to understand and remove obstacles. I must be a positive example to everyone. I also have to unfailingly explain, cheerlead and inspire people to perform at their best. I must never forget to remind people why they are important.

We had an instance where people did not follow an important process. This is not the first time that this has happened. I had a long conversation with the person about why this process was important. We talked about setting a strong example for the rest of the team. The most important thing we talked about was that none of us is an island. We are a team and our actions cause ripples throughout the whole organization. It was an excellent talk but the fact remained that he circumvented a critical process.

We decided that discipline was appropriate. It felt wrong to me though even though I agreed to it. I didn’t want to discipline the person because resorting to that in this case was my failure and I knew it. It should not have to come to this.

The operational leader on shift asked for a witness statement. Predictably, the person in question became upset. As did the rest of his team. I went down to talk to them This is where my readjustment happened. As we talked I started seeing and hearing them as the fragile human beings they are. That we all are. I believe that we all want what is best for our company. I also heard and saw clearly how there are obstacles standing in their way.

I could see in their eyes that despite their bravado they are scared. They know this has been a tough couple of years. They know that we have some huge program launches coming at us like a freight train. It’s a great problem to have as they will secure the future of our business. We need to launch them flawlessly because the consequences of failure could not be higher.

The more I listened the more I decided that I just can’t do this this way. I’m not going to mass discipline people. That’s absurd. It’s not the person I am and it’s not the leader I am going to be. If I am worth my salt then I need to win their hearts and minds. I need to help create an environment where we all hold each other accountable.

It’s also important to me that they live their best lives. I want us all to go home to our spouses and kids happy and knowing that we did important work. And that we did it well. I want our dinner times to be full of stories of how we worked together and of the successes we created. Human leadership. A la Bob Chapman.

I had someone stop me the other day. He told me, “Since you have come back here I go home happier. Not every day is the best but there are a lot more good days now.” I can’t tell you how great that felt.

I’ve decided that if I can’t do that in this environment then I need to quit. It’s not fair to the team and to the business.

We’re going to work together to solve this problem. I’m going to hold a workshop called a Working Together Workshop. I’m going to write the signup sheet in my own handwriting instead of the typical, generic and heartless form. I’m going to tell everyone from my heart what I want for them and for us as a team. And I’m going to ask them to hold each other accountable to supporting the solutions we come up with. It’s the only way we can build and sustain success.

Will it work? I think it will. But it’s going to start with me laying down my shield and making myself vulnerable. I need to do what feels right in my heart. Of course it might not work out and I might get canned. If that’s the result of my listening to my heart then I am Ok with it.

Stay tuned….