15 Jun '13
The leadership discipline of paying attention
It was a few years ago that an American submarine off of Hawaii managed to blow to the surface and smash into a Japanese fishing boat. Note to self: before surfacing, put up the periscope and look around! Carefully!
Healthy leaders pay close attention to what is going on around them. They regularly look around, ask questions, look in the closets and drawers as it were to understand the climate, mood, realities and issues that their team or organization faces.
Not to do so is to invite unhappy surprises! A pastor realizes one day that his staff have gone south on him and he has a coup on his hands (it happens). An organizational leader finds out that members of their board are unhappy. A team leader realizes that a staff member is undermining him or her in an unhealthy way. Or, something is going on that has the potential to create a crisis - like the submarine taking out the hull of the fishing vessel.
Organizational or team culture requires vigilance and care. Leaders who ignore threats to the culture are likely to pay a price for their lack of attention. The submarine captain lost his job!
I have watched leaders ignore significant staff discontent or lack of alignment because they didn't want to face an unpleasant reality. In the end they lost leadership capital because it was obvious to staff that their leader was not dealing with real issues in the organization that needed attention.
Some leaders are so self absorbed that they are clueless to what is actually going on around them. Then they feel betrayed when they realize that a collision has occurred. If they had been looking around and paying attention, they would not have been surprised.
Wise leaders ask questions and look for honest feedback in order to understand where people are at. Leaders who are threatened by honest feedback don't and find out what is going on the hard way.
Organizational culture and health is one of the primary responsibilities of leaders. But you have to look around and know what is on the water! Keep your periscope up and avoid surprises.