There are people who have done remarkable things. Saved their fellow man from a military ambush, carried someone out from a burning building, put someone else’s needs before their own. Are they just better than the rest of us or is there something else going on?
Before we get into that, we must think about why they do the things they do. Don’t all great saviours say the same thing? – “They would have done the same for me”. So, trust and cooperation are really important here. The problem is – these concepts are feelings, not instructions. Someone can’t simply say “Trust me” and have your trust.
The world is filled with danger and safety is sometimes hard to come by. Things that are frustrating our lives and hindering our success. Things over which we have no control, such as the economic situation or business competition. They are constant and they are not going away.
The only thing we do have control over is the ecosystem within our organisation and that’s where leadership matters, because the leader sets the tone. When a leader makes the choice to put the safety and lives of the people inside the organisation first, to sacrifice their own comforts and sacrifice the tangible results, so that the people remain, feel safe, and feel like they belong, remarkable things happen.
If the conditions are wrong – we are afraid of getting fired, afraid of the wrath of the manager – we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other. When we feel safe inside an organisation, we naturally combine our talents and our strengths, and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.
Being a leader is a bit like being a parent. We want to give our child opportunities, safety, education, discipline them if necessary, all so that they can grow up and achieve more than we could for ourselves. Real leaders want the same for their employees. If your child makes a mistake, would you consider laying them off, putting them up for adoption and replacing them? Of course not!
Bob Chapman runs a large manufacturing company in the Midwest called Barry-Wehmiller, which in 2008 was hit very hard by the recession, and they lost 30 percent of their orders overnight. They needed to save 10 million dollars, so, like so many companies today, the board got together and discussed layoffs. Bob refused and came up with an alternative programme.
Every employee, from secretary to CEO, was required to take four weeks of unpaid vacation. They could take it any time they wanted, and they did not have to take it consecutively. He said to his employees that “It’s better that we should all suffer a little, than any of us should have to suffer a lot”, and morale went up.
They saved 20 million dollars, and most importantly, because the people felt safe and protected by the leadership in the organisation, their natural reaction was to trust and cooperate. Quite spontaneously, and unexpectedly, people started trading with each other. Those who could afford it more, traded with those who could afford it less. People took five weeks’ unpaid holiday, so that somebody else only had to take three.
We call people leaders because they go in first and put the safety of others before their own. They choose to sacrifice, so that their people may be safe and protected, and so that their people may gain. And when people do gain, the natural response is that they will sacrifice for their leaders. They will give their blood, sweat and tears to see that their leader’s vision comes to life. And when we ask them, “Why did you do that?” they all say the same thing: “Because they would have done it for me.” Isn’t that an organisation we would all like to work in?
If you enjoyed this Leadership Guidebook entry, check out the others!
Leadership Guidebook: How to Inspire Action
Leadership Guidebook: Managing for Collective Innovation
Leadership Guidebook: Encouraging Women to Lead