By Mark vonAppen
When a leadership vacuum exists, bad things happen. Good people can disappear into silos of self-pity and self-defense and sometimes, the wrong type of leader can gain influence. People start to think more about themselves, less about the group, and in the process, they destroy the team.
When people feel unappreciated, they will begin to turn on each other, undermining one another’s success, and their efforts are stepped up only in an attempt to make someone else look bad. It’s a vicious and destructive cycle.
When people lose trust in the organization everyone will slow down their efforts and do just enough to survive. They’re usually smart enough to do it in a way that won’t get noticed at first, or get them in trouble, but it’s there, and everyone knows it. These unhappy individuals look to spread their disease until more people come on board and perhaps, their subtle mutiny will cause a system-wide failure. It’s a depressing thing to see.
Firefighters are uber-sensative to issues of trust. We all worked hard to get the job, we expected to reach a place where hard work is rewarded: play by the rules, eclipse the minimum standard, and it will all be okay. Well, the world isn’t fair, and fire department politics are often more complicated to navigate than the office politics governing the 9-5 crowd. Sometimes exceeding the minimum makes you a target. When you become a target, you seek cover so you don’t get hit.
Trust is the key to keeping people from turning to the dark side. Informal, destructive leaders, who seek to undo all that is right, are nonetheless leaders and they have to nudged, or shoved, in the right direction. By issuing forth fair, reasonable expectations ambiguity and anxiety are alleviated. Most of all though, expectations establish trust. Trust is built slowly, one brick at a time. It can all come tumbling down quickly though, if even one brick is removed.
It is very easy to become selfish in a group setting. People shrink from responsibility and ask, “What’s in it for me?” When things are at their most difficult, we have to drop our guard and say, “This is me, this is who I am. This is what I give to you, and here is what I expect in return.” It is the heart of the “10 for you, 10 for me” leadership pact that I use with my crew.
The team belongs to those who get the job done and no one else. Trust is hard found, and easily lost.
Leadership is nothing more than the ability to create influence. This blog is centered on the belief that anyone can lead from anywhere in any organization. The most difficult thing to do when things get tough is to make yourself vulnerable and continue to sacrifice. Trust is hard found, and easily lost.
How do we overcome leadership voids and ensure that the wrong types of leaders don’t rise to power? The answer is simple, decide on a common belief system that works for the good of all. We do it because we care about our brothers and sisters. Take the initiative and say, “If no one else is going to step up, I will. I will lead unselfishly.”
The deal that we strike, through a common value system (Excellence, The BIG4), creates investment. We sign our names to the contract, wear the sticker on our helmet, and we put it out there for the world to see. The deal that we make breaks down barriers, helps us shoulder our responsibilities, and creates a starting point from which all decisions are made. Having common values eliminates resentment and gives us a clear path to follow. Ultimately, being accountable gets rid of all scapegoats. Assessing blame becomes less important when we hold ourselves accountable. Because we are invested, when things go wrong we have nowhere to point the finger but at ourselves.
At the heart of all of this is peer pressure. We monitor each other, look out for each other, and we do it for each other. We know that talking about change does little to influence the future, actions do. We create a safe work environment where people are heard and doors are truly open. In doing so, we create our own success. The team belongs to those who get the job done and no one else. The leader’s job, no matter their rank, is to amplify the talents of those around them.
It’s time to lead up, push past hidden agendas, follow a path that is clear, unselfish, and in the best interest of everyone. When we do, the chaos will drop away.
Either you’re in or you’re out. If you are not invested, you have no right to complain because you are not an active participant in shaping the future. Stop wishing and start doing. Nobody is going to tap you on the shoulder and ask, “Hey, do you want to be great at this?” It is a conscious decision. Excellence is not someone else’s responsibility, it is yours and mine. Nobody, no matter how hard they try, can take that commitment away from us. When we believe in the deal that we make with each other there is no telling how far we can go.