Our 16 year old son has recently started driving. He has two younger sisters and while nervous about driving, we appreciate the taxi help. He is now driving himself and his sister to school. It is difficult to let go in this way but it had to happen. Many of you reading this have been through that phenomenon of the first time driver. Never has technology been there like it is now to make the transition easier. Our insurance company has offered to put a device in the car that will track driving. I am so glad this was not invented when I started driving! There are GPS tracking apps so we can determine if he is where he says he is. These devices and apps in and of themselves are good but so far we have opted not to put them in place. By default, we do not trust our teenage son, he is afterall a teenager. We have been telling him since he was 12 that if we can trust him with small things like doing homework and making his bed, we will learn to trust him with bigger things. We are still nervous and wish we had eyes to see as he was driving, but learning to be trusted is an important lesson for him and for us.
As you look at your organization from your lens of leadership, where do you want eyes to see? Would you want to hear from staff members about things that are not going so well? My wife and I are not completely blind as our son scoots around town. Our daughter will tell us of any erratic driving that happened while she was in the car. We have neighbors and other parents who help us see. How are you seeing into the culture and how are you made aware of negative behaviors ? If you could see your younger leaders in action how would that change the way you coach them? What can you put in place that would balance the need to trust with keeping an eye on things to help with course corrections?
This is where core values and accountability come into play. You as a leader have to set the stage and the bar for expected behavior. Five years ago, the leadership team at work decided to have an event we named “Breakfast with Bill.” Over bagels and coffee, the leadership team and I would sit down and review core values and expected behaviors with new staff members. We would talk about the values and I would let them know that no one operates outside of these values, not even me. Then I ask each one of them to be the eyes and ears of the department. To please let me know if they see any behavior that in their view was outside of the core values we discussed. The leadership team is present so they know that new people have permission to call them out on inappropariate behavior . This is better than any camera I could put in the meeting rooms and inside of younger leader’s offices.
It has happened only a few times in five years, but a few have come and talked about behaviors in the department they thought were questionable. I have always rewarded them with something, even if only a starbucks gift card, when they have come to me because I know it is difficult. Then, when we have our bi-weekly huddle meetings with the whole team, I talk, in general terms, about what was said and how I am responding. If you tell people to come to you, but they do not feel heard or responded to, they will stop, and you will lose your eyes and ears in the organization.
The key to having successful eyes and ears into your organization is to not be secretive about it. Let everyone know, including and especially younger leaders, that you will encourage any team member to come to you with issues. It is difficult for staff members to be comfortable with this so do something to reward this excellent behavior. Our son knows that his sister is going to say something and we had to let him know not to give her a hard time about it. He also knows that we have spoken with other parents so he won’t be surprised if we come to him after a call from one of them. Having secret eyes erodes trust. Be open about how your are seeing into your culture and give others the opportunity to take ownership in the environment they work in.