Thursday, April 7, 2011

Servant Leadership Practice--Be Present in Problems

Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP, has become the "poster child" for the absent leader during a crisis. He's not the only one though. I've seen a lot of executives and managers during crunch times delegate the responsibility to others with a "call me if there's a problem." They're the kind who will also walk by a mess without offering to help clean it up, or unbelievably create a mess and walk away from it because "someone else is getting paid to clean it up."

One time on a consulting assignment in Kansas City, I heard that an assembly line was having problems. Having a bit of extra time, I offered to go take a look, hopefully to provide insight into a solution. I introduced myself to the supervisor and she gave me a recap of the issue. I asked if she'd save some problematic parts for me to review the next day. Over a few days, I worked beside her crew, analyzing the parts, working on the line to understand the process, and putting all the data together for a solution. I was told that the engineers assigned to the line hadn't been there to see what was going on. They were working on the problem from their third-floor offices. Inevitably, their solution didn't work. Nor were the managers present either.

I tried to be present during the odd shifts, the Saturday work assignments. I admired bosses, real or fictional, who would advise, "Don't ask them to do something you're not willing to do yourself." I've been down in the sewers testing water effluent, up till the wee hours of the morning till the computers were back on line, buying breakfast fare for the Saturday crews or pizza for the overtime crowd, and running midnight month-end procedures. I appreciated a recently reported example of an executive who came for a full Saturday of work with his crew to review reams of faulty paperwork.

When people bring reports of problems, it's good to have a direct experience with at least one aspect of it. It will also build empathy for the work. (That's why I can't watch the TV show "Undercover Boss" anymore. I start screaming at the screen, "You already should have had some idea of what's happening...!")

Today, when someone reports a problem, ask to be shown how the problem manifests itself--whether it's in a product, a computer system, a customer call, a general ledger entry, filling out a form, etc.

For C12 and Truth@Work members, think about the role model you're trying to be. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians outlined all the hardships he endured to serve the congregations. What hardships are we enduring? In Acts, it's recorded that he took up a job in many cities so that he wouldn't be a burden while he was there with them. Don't make your team wait on you. Be in their midst but be part of the team.

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