Monday, October 16, 2006

Step One in Crisis Management

"There is no use crying over spilled milk." However, in this simple, and accessible example of crisis management, we all take the same first step. The first step in dealing with spilled milk, and really any crisis management is to get up out of your chair. It seems to be an obvious first step. It comes before get a towel or move papers out of the way. You have to get up. Translating this simple lesson to any leadership situation, especially in a crisis: you have first decide to act, and then prepare to act. You can decide what to do later, but you have to stand up first.

Lead on.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

We've Got Windows to Break

Another thought from Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. We've all seen abandoned warehouses with busted out windows. You may even have thrown a rock or two to try to break the remaining few panes. Why? What makes us willing to break a window on someone else's building. Gladwell calls it the broken window phenomenon.

If no windows are broken, it appears to us that someone cares about the building. We certainly wouldn't be the first to vandalize it. But, once a few windows are broken, and nobody comes to fix them, it appears to us that nobody cares. We somehow feel that we have permission to join in the window breaking fun.

I saw the same phenomenon in practice this weekend. I was driving to a local fair and the traffic was awful. We waited on the same straight stretch of road with cars as far as we could see. After forty minutes, one driver near the crest of the hill gave up, broke out of the line, and turned around. He had no more information than anyone else, he was just fed up with the wait. Within two minutes, four other cars did exactly the same thing. The rest of us moved up five cars and continued to wait.

The other four cars gave up because of the broken window phenomenon. They probably were grumbling about the wait, but they didn't want to look foolish to the rest of the anonymous drivers by being the first to get out of line. Once another driver took the lead, (oh, now you see why I'm talking about this) they were free to do so as well.

When someone else takes the lead, it suddenly becomes permissible, possibly even cool, to follow. Look into your own teams. What windows are they waiting for a leader to break so they have permission to join in the window breaking fun?

As a postscript, when we got about twenty-five yards from the fair entrance another car pulled out of line. Nobody followed it. There's a leadership lesson in that too.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Leadership's Football

I've always loved the story of when Vince Lombardi started coaching the Packers. He wanted to make sure the team had a good foundation so he got them together and said, "Let's start at the beginning. This is a football."

So, let us start at the beginning. The foundation of leadership is to lead. Try to wipe away all the nuance you have in your head about the word "lead." At its foundation, "lead" means to go first. A leader needs to go first. He or she needs to show the team the direction by going there first. Be out in the front of the pack. Set an example of the behavior you want to get.

Instructors have a concept called the six-second rule. When you ask a question in a class, it takes people six seconds to process the question, decide if they can answer, and get up the courage to answer. If I really want an answer in a class I'm teaching, I have to wait the whole six seconds to get it. On the other hand, if I just want to look like I want an answer, I wait just four or five seconds.

Leaders, as a group, don't tend to wait the full six seconds. They tend to answer early. This demonstrates the first principle of leadership: leaders lead. If you want to build a more dynamic environment, break the six-second rule. To do this, you need to break the inhibition you have about going first. You need to get over the fear of leading, that is being out in front. Break all the six-second rules you come across.