Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Are You Hiring Super Chickens?

This video from Margaret Heffernan at TEDWomen in May 2015 explains some concepts that new leadership needs to embrace. She describes how the model of focusing on superstars does not lend to high achieving teams, and how only teams that embrace the concept of social capital increase both productivity and profits in the corporate world. Margaret defines social capital as “reliance and interdependency that builds trust” and describes the importance of social cohesion and time together. Allowing time to grow together socially not only increases profits, but also increases employee satisfaction. She offers some great insights into how to create environments that allow people to achieve their fullest potential, and support social capital. Paying attention to the people is more important than being the superstar, “Companies don’t have ideas. Only people do.” She suggests redefining leadership as “an activity in which conditions are created in which everyone can do their most courageous thinking together.”

So, how do we as leaders and followers achieve the best possible outcome? How do we obtain results in a high-stress, fast-paced environment? Do we have one leader that stands among the followers, giving orders to be completed and carried out? Or do we collaborate, create environments for success, accept our followers as equals, and allow the team to take all the credit?

In this environment the most successful teams all share something in common: the most productive teams don’t have one shining star or run like a dictatorship. Everyone on the team feels value, feels supported, and feels heard. If a leader creates the environment for success, then leaders will emerge from the followers. Accepting your followers as equals allows for collaboration, idea sharing, and creates a feeling of comfort in being wrong and knowing it’s OK to have an idea that may not quite be the right one. This feeling, which the whole team experiences, allows for even the craziest ideas to rise to the surface. Some of those ideas may actually be the one that works to change the tide in our favor. Working together to support the leader’s intent (instead of directive) leads to faster outcomes, better products, safer operations, more clarity in situational awareness, and most of all a sense of pride in work.

As leaders, our objectives are vast; we must have the ability to provide environments to allow for success while also getting the job done. But what are some underlying factors that are bigger than ourselves? As leadership progresses, we learn new tactics, we gain new skills, and ultimately we acquire a new certification that places us in a position that many people will be looking to for the right answers. Remembering where we came from and who will be next is just as important as getting the next task book completed. As leaders and supervisors we need to pick the right teams, we need to remember to focus not only on physical abilities or qualifications, but also on the personalities. How well will this person work with that person? Can these three individuals sit in a two-door truck—for four months, day in and day out, under uncertain circumstances—without wanting to throw the other off a cliff? Surely they will have moments like these; however, this is when the team comes to the rescue. If leaders—both inside and outside of this group—have created an environment for success, then the group will achieve personal and operational success in the face of even the most adverse situations. The leaders have made it clear and available to share ideas, to express feelings and to bond in ways that allows the team to meet adversity and success with the same approach. A team achieving success should not be the end of the road, there should always be another idea or another challenge created to keep the team moving forward. Creating learning challenges and continually striving to achieve their fullest potential is one key to successful teams.

All sounds super easy to do right? We all know that’s not true; those of us tasked to find these souls have the difficult task of sorting through hundreds of applications of highly qualified individuals. So how do we make the right decision? Just because we are in the position to make this decision does not mean we make it alone or dictate who it will be. We ask for help, we seek collaboration, and we work together to nurture a team that creates new and great ideas. If we create the environment for success at the highest level, new leaders will follow. Leadership is all among us, we all have particular strengths and weaknesses, and only by working together can we achieve the outcome we all desire.

The WFLDP would like to thank Sean Kibbe for putting himself out there and taking our leadership challenge to write this blog. Sean is a Fire Unit Manager for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. All expressions are those of the author. 

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