Today there was some chaos in the community where I live. Water was bellowing up from the ground and flowing as a steady stream down the street. The original thought was that the main water line was damaged, but apparently the saddle valve blew off—which connects the main water line to the service lines. And because the pressure was so intense, it blew a hole in the main water line.
As with most of the hardworking men and women who put forth great energy and effort everyday as the community continues to grow with newly-built homes, today was no different. As soon as the issue was realized, individuals from numerous local agencies were working diligently to resolve the issue. Within five minutes or so of noticing the problem, the water was shut off so the flooding ceased. But over the course of the next five minutes, sheer craziness ensued!
As I looked outside, water was again gushing out of the ground and streaming down the street. But why? Because an inspector had to first see the issue before the water could officially be shut off. A worker was told to physically turn the water back on to watch the surge continue until the inspector arrived. Seriously? Where has common sense gone? This story is not about common sense. It’s about leadership.
So often I hear companies say, “We need to get the right people on the bus and in the right seats.” Yet, all the workers I saw busting their butts to help quickly solve the problem and mitigate more damage, were definitely in roles where they knew what to do in a crisis situation and acted accordingly. But then their autonomy was stripped away until one special person could arrive to say, “Yep! We got a problem! Shut the water off.”
Now, I understand there are rules in place for a reason and employees are asked to follow a chain of command. I get that. Yet, it is a leader’s job to create an environment where employees can do their work—to the best of their abilities—without being judged, scrutinized or told to stand down—especially in a crisis situation. The agile workers who responded swiftly and safely had their autonomy shredded today. What do you think will happen next time there is a similar issue?
Stop asking, “How do I get the right people in the right roles?”
Stop asking, “How do I get the best out of my employees?”
START asking, “How do I get out of the way and provide the tools necessary so my people can be their natural best?”