Have you ever wondered how they shot buffalo day after day and the herd never stampeded? Turns out before the buffalo hunters (no pun intended) began their wholesale slaughter they spent several days observing the herd to determine which one was their leader. Once they identified the leader of the herd, they would shoot him first. Why didn’t the buffalo herd stampede? The heard was leaderless and therefore had no one to follow.
The relevance of this is that too many organizations depend too much or solely upon their supervisor/leader. Your responsibility as a supervisor is to create an environment whereby, even in your absence, the organization is fully functional. That does not mean you’re not important. Your contribution is to nurture each of your employees so they clearly know what is expected of them, and that you have confidence they will do the right thing even in your absence. A supervisor’s job is more of a mentor than that of a dictator. Having a title and position do not make you a leader, it just means you’re the boss. One measure of your leadership skills is how well your organization functions without your day-to-day presence. Do they continue at a high level of performance or do they take a day off coasting until your return? The answer to that question tells a lot about your leadership style and how well you have mentored those with whom you work. Being a humble mentor confident in you own skill sets makes you a great leader.
Companies can ill afford for employees to be leaving because of ineffective supervisors. Think about your methodology for picking supervisors. My experience is that most supervisors are chosen because of their technical skills not their people skills. Unfortunately that is not enough in today’s labor force. For the first time in history we have four generations in the work place. It will take more than just technical skills if your supervisors are going to help ensure your company not only survives but also thrives in today’s global economy. When individuals become a supervisor of people (not technical) this often leaves a huge gap on how and if they can relate to people. Companies continue to promote supervisors that have demonstrated they are willing to work hard and some actually know the business. Then they are turned loose, catapulted if you will into the position to fend for themselves. Then by trial and error, mostly by error, they learn hopefully how to be an excellent supervisor. When they fail and they do often the people who work for them suffer and in turn the business is negatively impacted. The solution, unfortunately for many companies is to terminate the supervisor or worst yet they are promoted and the cycle starts all over again.
As with any random process some good supervisors emerge but for most it ends in disaster and the company wonders why its bottom line continues to trend downward. Continuing to put people in supervisors’ position with no plans to give them the requisite skill set necessary to be successful is like the definition of insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.”
Black vs. White? or Just a Life Lesson?
The game was soon out of reach for the visiting team. They were losing by more than 30 points early into the second quarter. The relatively new referee working hard to stay focused on the lack luster game called a foul late in the second quarter as the shooter went up for a shot. It was not so obvious to the untrained eye but there was really no foul. Having scored only 4 points, the referee wanted to give the losing team a break by allowing them a chance to score from the free throw line.
The coach at the other end of the court immediately called the referee over to dispute the call. I know what you’re thinking – the coach ahead was so competitive he didn’t want the other team to get away with anything. That might be the expected scenario but today was the exception (at least from the ref’s perspective). It was not the coach of the team ahead by 30 points but rather the coach of the losing team that pulled the referee over to discuss the call.
He told the referee, “That was a terrible call. You and I both know that was a horrible shot. There was no foul and I know what you’re doing. These boys don’t need a break. They need to learn how to play basketball. I don’t want this team to be treated like victims. They need to be held to a higher standard so they can become the kind of basketball players and ultimately the individuals I know they can become. They can’t do that when you bail them out with a call like that.”
Now the referee could have defended his call and denied taking such action. But he knew the coach had caught him. He also realized the lesson the coach was trying to teach his kids and quite unexpectedly teaching him so he just respond “OK Coach, It won’t happen again.” The referee walked away realizing there is more going on in this basketball game than just basketball.
Incidentally, the coach was an African-American (Black) and the referee was Caucasian (White). This was a great reminder that not all Blacks play the victim and not all Whites are prejudice. Most of the time life is about learning lessons from each other if we care enough to listen.
The referee by the way was my son who shared this compelling story with me. When I sent him a draft for his review he said he hadn’t even thought of this being a “Black vs. White” issue. Neither should we being thinking Black vs. White on so many of the challenges we are now facing. Lets us continue rather to learn from each other “Life’s Lessons.”