I was attending a town hall (meeting) and one of the topics being covered was safety. In shipping, safety plays a major role in our work. Usually, these talks are pretty straight forward, more about following processes. The speaker threw a question at us that got me thinking. He asked us, “who should get the recognition, the firefighter who puts out the fire or the safety inspector who prevents it?”. Later that night, I continued to reflect on this question over a glass of wine and realized that both sides had strong points. The firefighter needs to perform under severe stress which is needed in high performing teams, but the security inspector’s dependability saves a lot of time and resources. In conclusion, both roles are needed when you assemble a team, but I was not yet satisfied with this reflection and continued to think about it for a week as I felt that I was missing something.
Then it hit me one night. What if I spent time talking to the firefighter and the safety inspector in order to understand more about why they do what they do and what motivates them to do it every day? By getting to know their passion I will understand the true value that they add to the team.
During my first year as a psychology major, I came across this word, rapport, and over the years it has meant so much to me. In personal relationships, rapport is the highest level of trust that you can have with that person. When you achieve rapport, the other person will feel that they can tell you anything and trust that you will not share it with another person or judge him or her and most of all, you will always have honest feedback if he or she asks for it.
At work, we run a yearly engagement survey and there is one question that has become very popular amongst us because everyone seems to have a different explanation of its meaning. The question is: Do you have a best friend at work? The first time this question came up on the survey, everyone was confused, and this is something that I spent a few months reflecting on because the workplace and my best friend did not seem to match, at least for me. Then I started asking a few of my colleagues about one word that would define their best friend and out of 20 of them, 18 mentioned the word trust. This trust is the same as that rapport that is so common in mature interpersonal relationships. Then, what was the reason for including such a confusing question in a survey? I came out with my own explanation, they wanted us to reflect on the fact that in our mind having a best friend at work seems to be an odd thought considering that in highly efficient execution units, such as the US navy seals, they call each other brothers which even has a higher level of maturity if you ask me. I truly believe that there is a correlation between high performing units and trust.
In one of the teams, which I have had the privilege of leading, we faced a situation that an operator was handling. I made the decision to delegate this issue to his supervisor since I thought that due to the complexity of the case, it needed to be handled by someone with more experience. The operator asked his supervisor to let him continue to follow up on the case with his close supervision and he managed to solve it. I could see that he felt like a million dollars when he came to communicate the resolution of the case. This is what I like to call Extreme Ownership, a term that I stole with pride from a book by former navy seals officers, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. I define Extreme Ownership as the drive to hold on to and take accountability for an issue until it is fully resolved. The art of practicing Extreme Ownership is reserved for the ones who put passion into everything they do.
Every day accountability is becoming a must-have skill in high performing teams and is achieved by giving the best gift a human being can receive to your teammates: Time. A true leader will dedicate important amounts of his/her time to explain the bigger picture of the business, the big why. When they are continuously exposed to honest conversations about why we do what we do and why it is so important for us, the passion seed will become a seedling and then a tree. And on the other side, accountability will never be achieved by fostering an atmosphere of fear amongst the team. I mentioned this because I have been part of a team where accountability is understood as a synonym of bullying and pointing fingers. That is why I believe with all my heart that leadership is never business, it’s always personal.
Leadership and ego
Over time I have seen many people, myself included, who get into leadership roles to feed their ego. Over the years I have learned the hard way that a big ego gets you places but won’t get you very far. You will be able to drive changes with ego but not sustainable changes. A good friend who happens to be a great leader and triathlete who has completed several Ironman triathlons and has led a fair share of successful teams, once told me that when he decided to start training for his sport he decided to lose an important amount of muscle mass. When I asked him why he told me that muscle is heavy and to run long distances, he needed to be light. Ego is like muscle mass, it might help you deadlift 400 pounds one time but it will not help you run a marathon or an Ironman triathlon. Cheers!