LIMA - Above, you’ll see a short video of birds at my backyard feeder. I’ll get back to that, I promise.
But first, let me welcome you to the inaugural, and I hope to be the first of many, #ALLIN column. Some of you know I was a journalist in a former life. I missed writing and decided with the reboot of the Allen Lima Leadership website to add a blog. Sometimes I’ll write about leadership development, sometimes something else. It’s truly a work in progress. I am certainly no leadership guru, definitely not an original thinker on the topic, nor even an expert. But I cull and curate and synthesize and share.
So, we’ve all seen the animal videos in our social media streams, the ones in which a dog befriends a cat, or a mother cat adopts an orphaned weasel baby, or some such thing. Two polar bears “hugging” and “in love.” The rise of the viral has led to an equally exponential increase in anthropomorphism: We assign these human qualities and behaviors to animals because we think it’s cute. “She gave a violin to a koala. You won’t believe what happens next!”
This is what I was doing when I watched the birds the other day. I thought they were fighting over a scarce resource, the seed in my feeder. I said so to my lovely wife, who, as she often is, was skeptical. But I watched the flurry of their fury, as they flapped their tiny wings, one pushing another out of the way before the first even had a chance to stick his beak in for a seed. And then that one would get moved out by another. It seemed no bird was eating. All motion and activity, with no purpose or production. Ever have a day, or a job, like that?
I recorded a bit on my phone, because it seemed like a good place to start a column. Birds aren’t dumb. They travel in numbers, literally for safety. And they know how to stay warm, primarily by eating and staying out of the weather. If it’s windy, you’ll see them gather on the sheltered side of a bush to break the gusts. We do that. We know how to stay safe, generally. With the discovery of fire and our opposable thumbs, we do OK. We do better when times are good. Add some stress, such as competition over a limited resource, and things can go south.
Which is when good leaders are needed. Leadership expert Simon Sinek says a leader’s job is to take care of the people in his or her charge, to make sure they feel safe. Safe to take chances, to offer a new idea, or challenge a concept. When do people feel safe to do that? When they trust each other, and when they trust their leader.
This past fall, I shared with the 2017 ALL class information about Google’s Project Aristotle. Google wanted to find out what it was that made their best teams the best teams. It’s a really good and long story for another day, but the bottom line was that the best teams had team members who trusted each other.
How do leaders create a culture of trust? Much more informed people than me have written volumes of books about that. Paul Zak, in the January-February issue of Harvard Business Review, identified eight “management behaviors that foster trust.” He says they are measurable and can be managed to improve performance. You can read more about them, but here’s the eight, from Zak, the author of “Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies.”
Whew. Each of those is worthy of their own exploration, and topics, again for another day. But, notice that squirrel in one of the feeders in my video? He’s helping himself to a hefty serving of black oil sunflower seeds. Next to him is your team, pushing and flapping. Maybe even plotting, slacking, faking. All motion and activity, with little purpose or production.
Now, he’s a squirrel, and they’re birds, so no creature outside my window was recognizing excellence or building relationships. But you can. I would encourage you to consider the concept of trust, revisit this list and pick something as an initial focus and explore how a culture change can bring about measurable progress for your team.