How to lose your best talent
by: Peter A Hunter
Admiral Hyman Rickover was an extraordinary individual whose achievements were the result of his whole lifes work. He was known for his dedication and an attention to detail that was key to learning the lessons that formed the basis of the United States Nuclear Submarine fleet.
He was alleged to have taken the first dive with every new submarine in the U.S. fleet and if ever something seemed like it was going wrong during the dive, he would calmly go to the compartment where the problem appeared and sit and watch while the crew handled it.
His behaviour and his leadership are far more complex that a few short paragraphs could do justice to but I was disturbed when the above was used as an example of good leadership behaviour.
|Taking these discrete examples of things that Admiral Rickover did as examples of his behaviour is fine as part of the overall picture of the Admiral but it is dangerous to assume that this behaviour on its own makes great leaders.
Can you imagine the stress that it would cause a seaman on a new submarine on its first dive if when he has his hands full trying to deal with a potentially serious problem, Admiral Rickover walks into the compartment and sits down to watch.
An action that might be designed to show commitment and leadership may in fact make the seaman so nervous that he is unable to remember the correct process for the problem he is trying to solve and when it is finally resolved the seaman may get very angry with himself for forgetting basic procedure in front of the Admiral. What actually happened in the presence of this great man we can only speculate but for mere mortals we can see how this same behaviour can be very destructive.
Working in an automotive repair environment I heard that the shop manager had decided to check the wheel nuts himself after every puncture repair. The manager was very concerned about the quality of the work that left the garage and was genuinely concerned that the wheel nuts might not have been properly tightened. Unfortunately the first effect was that this behaviour sends a message to the mechanics that the manager does not trust them. Next it tells them that if he is going to check the wheel nuts then they don't have to, so they stop caring whether the wheel nuts are tight or not. As far as they are concerned if the manager wants to check the nuts, go ahead knock yourself out, it is one less thing for us to do. why should we bother.
The final and worst possible result is that the manager starts to find loose wheel nuts.
This tells him that he was right to check the wheel nuts and that without his checks the vehicles would go on the road in an unsafe condition. This makes him feel good that he decided to check the wheel nuts.
What is so horrible is that until he decided to check the wheel nuts the mechanics always checked them and no vehicle ever went on the road with loose wheel nuts.
When the manager started to check the nuts was when the mechanics stopped caring, because the manager had stopped trusting them.
Our actions have an effect on those around us.
We can have a positive effect by trusting people and respecting them, or like this manager and many others, we can destroy their ability to take pride in what they do by sitting on their shoulder and checking everything they do.
Give people the space they need to be good and to take pride in what they do and watch as they become exceptional, or try to control the same people by checking their work and drive out the possibility of anything except a mediocre performance from a reluctant workforce.
What you get out of the workforce is what you give them.
Give them nothing and that is what you will get.
Peter A Hunter
Author – Breaking the Mould
Hunter Business Consultancies Ltd.