It's Not a Question of Either/Or!

authentic leadership authority boss culture ethical influence executive genuine influence leadership leadership culture management manager profitability profitability killers servant leadership supervision supervisor Mar 08, 2023
top down approach

One of the most powerful lessons I learned in the fifteen or so years I worked in behavior-based safety had nothing to do with safety and was only indirectly related to human behavior… That lesson was in how much the act of serving others impacted the influence an individual could have on others around them. The process I had responsibility for was driven by a group of hourly shop floor employees (I was an hourly employee the entire time too) with only one management team member serving on our steering committee. As these hourly team members from all areas of our facility developed their skills in this unique approach to safety, I frequently saw their peers go directly to them for help in getting issues addressed rather than following the traditional chain of command and asking their immediate supervisors for the same support. Quite honestly, the folks who were engaged in that behavior-based safety process had developed reputations for being able to get things done! The results they were responsible for achieving earned authentic influence with the large majority of the people working around them; a kind of influence that not all of the supervisors had earned…

I’ve shared this quote from John Maxwell before and I’ll share it again now, “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less!” One of the most frequent complaints I heard from the supervisors and managers throughout our facility during that time was tied to their employees not bringing issues to them. In many cases, the employees actually had brought the issues to them at some point, or at least something similar, and hadn’t gotten any real resolution. In too many times, they hadn’t even gotten feedback! The hourly team members who were involved in the behavior-based safety process had been empowered to take action and get results AND we made a point of being intentional about following up with the folks who brought issues to our attention. That earned a level of influence that will never happen through handing out job assignments at the beginning of a shift.

To be completely fair, the ones engaged in that behavior-based safety process had an unfair advantage, one that I’ve seen far few organizations provide to their supervisors and managers. Like each of the most active behavior-based safety team members, nearly every supervisor in the facility at that time had been extremely high performers in technical roles prior to becoming a supervisor or manager. The biggest difference I saw was that we provided a tremendous amount of training and development on soft skills for the folks in the behavior-based safety process. Soft skills were occasionally mentioned, at least in passing, during some of the supervisor meetings I sat in on but it rarely received much focus - and there was certainly no expectation for them to take specific actions to apply anything that was briefly touched on…

Make no mistake though, I’m not suggesting that the work they were doing wasn’t critical; it most certainly was! I am suggesting that we’ll never be as effective as we can be with the teams we’re responsible for when we’re focused solely on the authority that comes with our position instead of balancing that with a healthy dose of earned influence. If we’re serious about getting measurable results by changing our approach, we definitely need to be experts at managing the processes and procedures we’re charged with overseeing but we can accomplish so much more with (and through) our teams when we’re just as effective at leading as we are at managing and supervising. Next time, we’ll look at how quickly the results can follow when we bridge that gap!