I am going to take a different approach to my blogging over the next few weeks. I will still do my three short blogs on Hu – The Human Element of Organizational Effectiveness, but I am also going to do one detailed article on the approach that the Performance Leadership Institute takes to helping leaders and teams tap into and use the key element to successful teams, and organizations. The reality is simply this; all the programs and approaches, data, and analytics that companies employ to increase effectiveness are simply window dressing if this element is not factored in – our humanity (Hu)! There is that song that was popular not that long ago that goes, we are only human after all. I do not see that as a limiting statement; I see it as a declaration of what turns out to be a pretty incredible design!
Over the next few weeks and months, we are going to explore the work of many experts in this field, many of whom you will recognize. Simon Sinek, Aubrey Daniels, John Maxwell, Patrick Lencioni, and Michael Lewis, all of whom have contributed in some way to our understanding of who we are as humans, not just esoterically, but fundamentally, from our physiology to our psychology. You cannot achieve your full potential as a leader without acknowledging the Hu element to leading your team and getting the most from them.
Hu is not just about getting better but about getting better and loving every moment of the journey! Hu is not about reward and recognition but about being the kind of leader who sees their people, honors their unique contribution, and celebrates that contribution. Hu is not about figuring out which switches to flip in your people, but rather it is about acknowledging them AS people and all that comes with that reality – family, history, strengths, weaknesses, doubts, dreams, and ambitions. It is about setting them free from doubt, letting them contribute and step out of the box, fail, and, most of all, succeed.
When you successfully apply Hu, you will be part of something that will be cutting edge. You will lead a group that will never again see challenges as boundaries that hold them in but see them instead as something to be conquered and overcome.
Coherence is what every leader must create. Some leaders do it by accident, some not at all, and a rare few, by design. In a nutshell, coherence is the ability of a leader to create an environment for their team that consistently interprets the objectives of the company to the team, reinforces their role, and reinforces what they do to achieve those objectives. Coherence creates a safe environment where everyone knows what is expected of them, where the boundaries are, and what they can or cannot do within those boundaries.
Safe can mean “nobody moves, nobody gets hurt,” or it can be like a game of soccer, hockey, football, or basketball game where everyone knows the rules and the boundaries but how each team executes within that framework is limitless. Coherence tilts to the latter definition.
Setting your team free - A tale of two cultures
Here is a quick comparison of two corporate cultures and the outcomes that came as a result.
London’s famous subway system is known world-wide for keeping its trains on time. Staff and policies all align with machine-like precision to ensure that those times are always maintained. There is strong leadership but also a tendency to clump into silos. Staff is driven to follow protocol, and little tolerance is given to anyone who steps out of bounds. Highly regimented is equated with highly efficient. You are not paid to think but are paid to do and follow protocol. This is all well and good when things are going well, but it may become an Achilles heel when things do not go well.
Such was the case with the Kings Cross Station fire. In a nutshell, the people who noticed something was amiss had been conditioned to focus on their tasks and let the “team responsible for those things” look into it. As things would unfold, the team that was to check into hazards, such as fires, had not been made aware there was an issue, and the errors cascaded down the line. Someone noticed, but it was not their job, so it was never reported. The net result was 31 fatalities and over 100 injured.
On the other side of the coin was SouthWest airlines, an industry leader headed by Herb Kelleher, an aviation disrupter in his own right. Where Kings Cross and the London Subway were regimented and siloed, SouthWest was the opposite. In 1994 Kelleher was named the best American CEO, and his airline was the only consistently profitable airline in the industry. When asked the secret of his success, he simply noted that you can duplicate the aircraft, the computer programs, the gate facilities, and so on, but you can’t replicate the intangibles. What he meant by intangibles are the employees.
Kelleher had a coherent framework that he insisted define the company. That framework was founded on the values of humor, independence, and respect. He loved and respected his employees, and in turn, they worked hard to never let him down. His focus was on hiring good people and setting them free to achieve beyond what even he could imagine. In an industry that is in a high state of flux, this approach was his competitive edge.
When a rival airline went out of business on a Friday afternoon in 1991, by the end of that same day, SouthWest staff from Dallas had flown to Chicago and taken control of every airport gate of that rival shuttered company. Airport gates are hard to get and crucial to maintaining an advantage over your competitors. He did not even know that his staff had done this until the next day. They had the freedom to act, and as it turned out, they kept all those gates.
Both groups needed to maintain tight control and schedules, yet one lapsed where the other thrived. What was the difference? Coherence. *(It should be noted that the London Subway learned from this tragedy and implemented a different approach (coherence) that allowed staff to be much more involved in delivering daily operations.)
Setting your team free!
Coherence then is about creating the atmosphere or milieu that provides a safe environment for employees to experiment, innovate, fail but also succeed. If you can think back to what you were like when you first came into a role or job can you recall looking around and asking questions like, why do they do that? Or, if they just did it this way, it would work so much better. We have all done this, your staff is no different. We are social creatures, and part of our wiring is that we all want to contribute. It is part of group survival. Everyone wants to have an impact, to do a good job. Do you set them free to do that?
As a leader, you can squash that impetus and simply move toward getting compliance from your team, and many leaders do just that. You may have a well-oiled machine, but it will never achieve its full potential. Smooth and steady is good until the competition runs you over.
If, on the other hand, you invite your team into the work, show them how they contribute, give them some space to try new things and to fail, you will not only get a well-oiled machine – admittedly, perhaps it might take a bit longer than the compliance model – but one that will build upon success, attract those who share that vision and create innovation and a team culture that will have others wondering how you did it. You see, we are only human, after all, lol!