HABITS OF HIGHLY RELIABLE LEADERS
The best way for any leader to respond to unpredictable challenges is by building an effective organization that expertly spots the unexpected when it crops up and then quickly adapts to meet the changed environment. In a series of interviews, Weick revealed the five habits of highly reliable leaders and their organizations.
1. Don’t be tricked by your success. HROs do not gloat over their successes. In fact, just the opposite: They are preoccupied with their failures. They are incredibly sensitive to their own lapses and errors, which serve as windows to their system’s vulnerability. They pick up on small deviations. In addition, they react early and quickly to anything that does not fit with their expectations.
2. Defer to your experts on the front line. There are so many deviations out there, so much dissonance. How do we know what is really worth paying attention to? The answer: Listen to your experts – the people on the front line.
3. Let the unexpected circumstances provide your solution. I have read about the Mann Gulch fire that killed 13 smoke jumpers in 19. In all, it was a tragic organizational failure. But what was amazing was the reaction of the foreman, Wagner Dodge, when the fire was nearly on top of his men. On the spot, he invented the escape fire – a small fire that would consume all of the brush around him and his team, leaving an area where the larger fire could not burn.
4. Embrace complexity. Business is complex, in large part because it is unknowable and unpredictable. In the face of all of this complexity, HROs are reluctant to accept simplification. They understand that it takes complexity to sense complexity.
5. Anticipate — but also anticipate your limits. We try to anticipate as much as we possibly can, but we cannot anticipate everything. There is such a premium on planning, on budgeting, on making the numbers. In the face of all that, the notion of resilience has an affirming quality: You do not have to get it all right at first.
Identifying Real Leaders
According to Melvin Sorcher and James Brant, some of the attributes that seem like the best indicators of leadership potential should, in fact, be warning signs.
Team players and those who excel operationally, for instance, often make better seconds-in-command, the authors say in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review. And great public speakers sometimes lack the subtle one-on-one persuasive powers that a top leader needs. And are those shows of raw ambition really more about ego than leadership talent?
Sorcher and Brant promote the idea of identifying leaders by using a carefully crafted series of questions to probe a wide range of leadership criteria, including such “soft” attributes as personal integrity, that are difficult to assess. “Without such information,” HBR says, “senior management will remain vulnerable to misidentifying leadership talent, and the wrong people will continue to make their way up the corporate ladder.”
The Operational Leader
In the previous chapters, we talked about the four main types of successful leaders and the difficulties we face in surrounding ourselves with those who don’t share our dominant aptitudes for leadership. In this chapter, I want to talk specifically about one of those leadership aptitudes – the operational leader.
I’ll help you determine if you are an operational leader. If so, I’ll help you play to that strength. If you aren’t – if you are more inclined to be a directional leader, a strategic leader or a team-building leader – then this lesson will help you identify one of the greatest needs you have: an operational leader.
We can identify operational leaders by six characteristics:
1. They provide stability to the organization.
2. They devise systems to make things run smoothly. They have a system for every problem in life.
3. They serve as a hub through which activity is coordinated. Just like Atlanta is the hub for the airline industry in the Southeast, operational leaders are the hub of an organization. People turn to operational leaders because they truly know what is happening.
4. They share the bad news. Generally, these leaders aren’t paid to bring performance level up, so they often aren’t responsible for the bad news. They are, however, aware of it because they are in tune with the organization.
5. They create new solutions to old problems. Operational leaders are the best problem solvers. If you’ve got problems, you want to have one of these people around you.
6. They often complement the other three aptitudes. This is the person who usually is not the true “out-front” person, but often shows strengths as a servant leader and, therefore, best complements the other three by far.
Operational leaders are essential to the success of an organization, but, like the other three leadership aptitudes, they have their weaknesses. And rather than trying to work on developing other aptitudes of leadership, their time is better focused on shoring up their weaknesses as operational leaders.
Operational leaders, for example, easily slip from leader to manager because they are usually more comfortable managing. They also tend to dislike conflict. They’re usually very smart – they know the numbers, they know the realities, they know what needs to be done – but they often avoid getting in the middle of conflict.
Because operational leaders are focused on the details, they often fail to see the big picture and they sometimes lack motivational skills. And because they understand the negative realities, they can be viewed as a hindrance to progress. When the organization’s moving forward and everybody’s seeing the mountain, the operational leader is the person who raises the flag.
Finally, the operational leader usually has the least amount of influence with the other three aptitudes. In fact, if you’re one of the other three, the first person you should seek to be on your leadership team is an operational leader because to a great degree, operational leaders support and serve the other three leadership aptitudes
Mentoring: Mission Possible
If you’re planting for a year, plant grain;
If you’re planting for a decade, plant trees;
If you’re planting for a century, plant people;
You might find it interesting that the term mentor goes back to Greek mythology. A mentor was “someone assigned as tutor of another.” Our dictionary defines it this way: A wise and trusted teacher, guide, and friend; an elderly monitor or adviser. Titus 2:1-8 in the bible has been my guide as a mentor for years. Study it well. That special passage of scripture has shaped my thinking as a mentor, so let me share some of my thoughts and experiences with you.
First of all, mentoring takes courage. I say that because I believe mentoring is revealing what you have learned through your own life experience and your understanding of the Word to another person. As leaders, most of us find no greater joy than revealing how much we know about any given subject! However, many of us would rather have a root canal than to share how we have learned these valuable truths, especially if it includes revealing the mistakes we have made, our own poor decision-making, lack of judgment, or, God forbid, some weakness on our part!
But wouldn’t you agree that these are some of the greatest lessons we have ever learned and probably some of the most valuable instruction we can offer others? If we come off as always perfect, our followers simply cannot relate. I am quite aware of the fact that I do not have it all together all the time and to pretend that I do is absurd and would make me of little or no value to those I am called to be an example.
A quote that resonates in my heart from the earliest days of mentoring is this one: “It takes one who has gone deep in his or her own heart to know how to draw out that which is deep within the heart of another.”
I have a new motto that I live by now: “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger!” But the truth of the matter is, it not only makes me stronger, but it makes those around me stronger as well.
So here’s how I see it: If you had a map, and at least knew the direction in which to travel, wouldn’t you feel inclined to help your fellow traveling companions find their way also? Even if you didn’t know all the turns or all the roads that you must travel, you still may know more than others, and wouldn’t you feel compelled to share what you did know, and not focus on what you did not know? In my writing and speaking on the topic of mentoring, I teach that mentoring is simply sharing a piece of my “map” with another. Maps provide us with four important things:
The Big Picture
Your current location
Your final destination
Various possible routes
Some of you are already intentionally and successfully mentoring. Well done! Mentoring is time well spent and you should consider it an honor that qualities found in you are of value to a fellow laborer. Most mentors believe if there is anything within them worthy of reproduction it is only because of the tough roads they have walked or the valuable lessons they have learned. They feel a deep desire to make a difference in the life of others and simply make themselves available.
That’s my story. If I have anything of value to offer others, it is only because of the investment made in me by God, God’s people, and the tough roads I’ve walked (some, a result of my own poor decisions). I’m nothing special in and of myself. Remember, some of us learn from the mistakes of others, and some of us must be the others! I am constantly growing and changing to become more perfect and my goal is to point others in the right direction, while I walk towards my perfection, to the best of my ability.
Everyone who aspires to leadership is looking for a mentor; someone to believe in them enough to teach them, train them, and even correct them so that they can grow as a leader. The mission of a mentor is to lead the student – this demonstrates courage & builds trust; to love the student – this increases faith & builds confidence; to serve the student – this increases reproduction & creates duplication; and to confront the student – this addresses weaknesses & produces change; but it is much more about our ability to affirm the student – this recognizes their giftedness & strengthens their leadership potential. Peter F. Drucker said, “Find the strengths of the student and put them to work, rather than to look at the student as somebody whose deficiencies have to be repaired.” I couldn’t agree more.
I don’t want to talk you into mentoring and not tell you the whole truth because before you begin, you should know that everyone wants to be mentored until you try to mentor them.
Mentoring is risky business, but the greater the risk, the greater the victory. You may give, and serve, and love, and believe, then something happens and you watch your work fall like a house of cards. Winston Churchill said, “To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day.” I have experienced this, and it is always difficult but in leadership we all know the saying, “If everything’s coming your way, you must be in the wrong lane.”
Mentoring will increase your vulnerability. This means you may make mistakes and you may even fail (in your eyes), but failure is just an opportunity to begin again…more intelligently. Resist the urge to be perfect. A perfectionist is someone who takes infinite pains, and gives them to others. Don’t be a pain!
Mentoring often reveals more about yourself and what you have yet to learn, but I’ve heard that life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends upon what you’re made of. To quote Lord Kelvin, “When you are face to face with a difficulty, you are up against a discovery;” So prepare for some great discoveries!
Mentoring is guaranteed to change your life. Like Heraclitus said, “It is in changing that things find purpose.” I believe that nobody learns more than the teacher and you can’t help someone to the top, without getting closer to the top yourself.
Here is your mission, “should you choose to accept it.” Share your piece of the map. Give what you’ve got to give. Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Sow seeds into the lives of others. Reveal who you are, what you’ve learned, and how you’ve learned it because in our weakness – HE is made strong.