Leadership Made Easy

Trying to go it alone can show limited results. Make it easy for others to help you.

No doubt Warren Buffett is a world-class financial decision maker. At a recent University of Washington graduation ceremony, he remarked, "Everybody here has the ability to do anything I do and much beyond. . . . For those who won't, it will be because you get in your own way, not because the world doesn't allow you."

Leaders are not immune. Too many make things needlessly difficult for themselves and get in their own way. So I propose an opposite tack, "Make It Easy Leadership" (MIEL -- which means "honey" in both French and Spanish). This approach emphasizes making things happen by reducing self-made obstacles. With just two strategies, you can elevate safety receptivity and performance -- and lower the stress of leadership:

1. Make it easy for others to lead. Leadership entails working with and through others. But some don't apply Gichin Funakoshi's "secret" of his success in transforming Karate from a barely-known practice to worldwide recognition: "When a person enters upon an undertaking, he knows that he needs the help of others; success is not to be attained alone."

But this isn't what really happens within many organizations. Instead, some aspiring leaders go it alone, whether due to need to micro-control methods to get it done their way or fear of being outshined by others. Still others vocally ask for help yet create obstacles to enlisting others.

What to do? Some approaches for getting out of your own way:

  • Treat others as leaders, not followers. Tom Peters said, "The best leaders don't create followers, they create other leaders." When you expect others to just do as they're told, some will rebel, others will shut down, others will mindlessly do as requested and nothing more. Rather, build leaderlike decision-making and action skills from top to bottom.
  • Accept -- and welcome -- others having different styles than yours. Each of us applies an individual mix of planning, strategizing, preparing, and communicating that is unlikely to be replicated. When you ask leadership assistance from others either above, sideways or below, remind yourself they will always do things different from you -- perhaps better, maybe worse, but not the same. Welcome their contributing time and commitment to your objectives, offloading you, spreading buy-in, and boosting culture.
  • Excise "it's either all or nothing." Others have their own driving values and projects. Don't expect them to live for yours (may include holding Safety as their primary driver). Similarly, the 10 minutes of senior executives' time you actually get for a Safety briefing is far better than the three hours you really want to have but won't receive.
  • Lower your pressure in order to raise results. The more you expect others to do differently, the less likely they'll do this. Reduce expectational rigidity; "better a half a loaf than none at all." Make it easy for executives to lead Safety by providing options requiring minimal time that make a visible difference. And this also sets them in motion as Safety leaders. Actions such as attending a portion of a Safety meeting, filming a 45-second introduction to a Safety video, inducting new Safety committee members, introducing a speaker at a Safety conference, etc.

2. Make it easy for others to help you. Someone I'll keep anonymous (my 15-year-old son, Brian) sometimes throws up roadblocks to being helped. He's gotten better, and perhaps some of his actions reflect his age. But I know many "grown up" leaders who seem stuck in similar self-defeating ways by extinguishing others' impetus to help them.

  • Identify and reduce blockages to others willing support and alliances. Make peace with yourself that you're not perfect, that you're eager to seek help. Some would-be leaders allow their insecurity ("I'm totally fine just the way I am") to disable their ability to seek and receive assistance. Trying to go it alone can show limited results. For example, seeking CPA advice on a complex tax question doesn't show "weakness"; rather it indicates the internal confidence and wisdom to accept that no one knows everything.
  • Recognize and redirect your own defensiveness. Create an internal early warning system. I heard the Dalai Lama remark that one of the main problems many people have is losing control when they get angry. Further, he contended it's too late to try to catch yourself once you're full-blown fuming. Instead, notice when you feel frustrated, a common precursor to anger. Act then to head off anger at the pass that might otherwise cut off your own nose.
  • Empty your cup. Reduce know-it-all-ness. Make sure you're not full of how excellent and knowledgeable you already are, that you always make room for learning and improving. Practice saying, "I hadn't heard that" and "I didn't know that." See, enjoy, then let go of feelings of self-satisfaction. For those of us who aren't championship athletes, we're only as good as the next thing we do. So even if you've recognizably reduced soft-tissue injuries, don't induce shoulder strains by patting yourself too much on the back. There's always room to improve -- that is, if you have a receptive, what's-next-step mindset.
  • Don't shoot the messenger. In fact, go the other way: Welcome, even solicit, other voices and conflicting opinions.
  • Cultivate truth-speakers who you trust to give you feedback. Remember, we're all works in progress and the best leaders' aim is to continually improve. Honor honesty. When truth-speakers offer even uncomfortable suggestions, calmly decide if these have merit, then practice what you can. Be sure to get back to these resources to show/let them know their efforts are being applied, not wasted.
  • Sincerely thank those who are trying to help. Accept the spirit present, the attempt, even when the wrapping isn't as pretty as you'd like. This encourages future support.

Make it easy on yourself to become a better leader by taking a honeyed approach for maximizing Safety success.

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Robert Pater is Managing Director and creator of the MoveSMART system for preventing strains/sprains, slips/trips/falls, hand injuries implemented in over 60 countries. Their emphasis is on “Energizing, Engaging Expertise” to simultaneously elevate safety performance, leadership and culture.

Clients include: Amtrak, ArcelorMittal, BHP Billiton, BMW, Borgwarner, BP, Cummins, Domtar, DuPont, Hawaiian Airlines, HD Supply, Honda, Marathon Oil, Michelin, MSC Industrial Supply, Nissan, Northrop Grumman, ONE Gas, Rio Tinto, Textron, United Airlines, U.S. Steel, WestRock, many others.

Robert writes two ongoing columns for Occupational Health & Safety and for Professional Safety.

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