Are You Ready to Run With the Bulls?

Today’s article is by guest contributor Mona Reiser and also includes a few of my own thoughts. Once again she has such a gift for seeing leadership in so many different places.

Do you remember hearing “Don’t touch, it’s hot!” when you were younger? It usually happened right before you touched the stove, hot food or a hot drink. Once you grew up, you probably said that same thing to young children trying to do something similar. How often have you been on the giving or receiving end of that admonition or any type of such cautionary advice, that begins very early in our lives? We continue that behavior well into adulthood, and I would offer, even into leadership roles we take on.

Perhaps an example would flesh this out further. One of my first positions in a manufacturing plant was that of the Facility Scheduler. A primo job at best! In essence, the scheduler had the plant at their command. Material handling had to insure availability of all packaging items (and work with the inventory group to order), processing had to prepare the batches needed to run the lines, QA on standby, and all the other players that supported over 35 manufacturing lines of health and beauty products. To this day, a few decades later, still my absolute favorite job in a long series of positions within the world of logistics/supply chain. But I digress…

At one point, I realized that this team of 1 needed to expand, and management agreed to promote me to a supervisor position. As a newly minted supervisor, I made the classic mistakes: too much minutiae over-seeing, correcting in advance, protecting the employee from any possible failures and the list continued. (By now, does anyone reading see any similarities in their early leadership roles? No need to admit it!) The employee took me to task, over a very nice dinner and drinks, and asked me to lead but allow for mistakes, growth and mentorship. And to this day, we remain life-long friends.

What reminded me of this story was a quote I read in an interview of Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare. He was asked how his parents influenced his leadership style: “My dad was always good at what I would describe as panicking early, which I think of as looking way out over the horizon and the 50 steps down the road.” As a true logistician (and in fact as any leader), our role is to think of all that can happen and what alternatives can be put in place to address them. In case you are wondering what CEO Prince’s mother’s influence was on his leadership style: “My mom would always say that it’s better to have a couple of nice things than a lot of mediocre things. We’ve applied that lesson at work, to do a few things really well.”

Perhaps changing up our admonition of “don’t touch, it’s hot” to a few (age appropriate) additions: it could burn your hand; it will give you a blister, etc…; we begin to build in some of the “50 steps down the road.” We as leaders, allow for a more accepting tolerance to risk takers in our organizations.

Sue’s thoughts:

  • Are you transparent with your communications?
  • Do you take the cautious route and limit the information that you are sharing with your team to protect them?
  • Do you jump in to prevent them from growing and learning by making their own mistakes?
  • Do you encourage risk from your team members and encourage them to prepare plans to mitigate those risks or do you teach your team to only play it safe?

When I was leading a global program and getting ready to implement this global system, I was told I should hold off and wait. Yes, there were some issues that weren’t completely fixed yet, but could be addressed once we went live. I knew that the risk was worth the reward. My team would fix those issues and we would be successful. I took a lot of flak for making that decision. In the end, we were successful, we went through some bumps and made it happen. I was given an award called “Running with the Bulls” for my decision that year to take the risk and go live. Yes it was a gamble, but I trusted my team and had the courage to stand up to make the tough call. I appreciated that my management backed me and trusted me to do what I thought was right, even though there was a good amount of risk involved.

What will you do the next time you face a risk?

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