Leaderless! Why Buffalo don’t Stampede?

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 leadimageser. 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.


Supervisors and the Wright Brothers, What we can learn?


First Flight

I am reminded of my visit to Kitty Hawk where the Wright Brothers became the first to fly.  I ask myself this question, “What did they do different from everyone else that were frantically striving to be the first to fly?  What I discovered was that pretty much everyone at the time knew that it would take a structure with wings and an engine to power it in order to be able to fly. So many would be “flyers” did just that, they would build a structure with wings and an engine. Then with different launching apparatuses such as catapults (Samuel Pierpont Langley tried it unsuccessfully) and different take off points they would fire up the engine and in short order would crash. If they survived and many didn’t, they either quit or would try it again changing little in their approach.

So what did the Wright Brothers do different? They understood unless you could control the plane, wings and an engine alone would not be enough.  So they set out without a college education, little funding and a handful of dedicated workers they set out to break the code for being able to successfully fly.  So they choose Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Why because that is where the wind blows constantly surrounded by sand dunes both of which would be necessary for them to fly gliders to learn the controls necessary to be able to fly.

They understood they needed to be able to “crash,” survive, and learn from each crash how to control the glider.  So with each crash, and they crashed often (up to six to eight times a day), they began unlocking the code on what it took to control the gliders. What did they discover? They discovered the three critical axes that must be controlled in order for successful flight to occur.  What are the three axes they needed to control? They are: Pitch, Roll, & Yaw.

So when the Wright Brothers clearly understood how to control the plane they put those control features on a the plane along with the wings and engine and flight took off literally and figuratively.  Every plane that exist today has the mechanisms to control the plane around these critical axises.

So what does this have to do with supervisors?  We are essentially dong the same thing, in that the individuals whom we are considering for supervision have a couple of needed traits i.e. work hard and have demonstrated some level of skills. However, we have left them ill-equipped to have any real chance of being successful. They are set up for failure, to crash if you will.

Ever wonder what the consequences are when they do “crash?”  Obviously for them personally it is devastating however the damage is not isolated to the individual alone. The “crash” cost  businesses untold millions of dollars to replace good employees that quit the supervisor (“People don’t quit companies, they quit their supervisor”) as well as the cost to retrain, and/or replace the unprepared supervisor.

How do we select supervisors?


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.”