Respect the Thorns
There was an era of Korea Air’s lifetime where they had an unusually high number of aircraft crashes.
Deeper investigation found that Korean’s respect for hierarchical culture as a potential root cause. Specifically, it was understood that the first officer should not question the pilot. If ice was building up on the wings, cabin pressure was gaining too fast or a descent was too fast, imagine if it was inappropriate for the No.2-in-charge to tell the No.1-in-charge what do to.
The fix: Korea Air made it mandatory for the first pilot to say something.
The result: Korea Air’s accident-free rate improved dramatically.
As a plant matures, its thorns sprout and sharpen as a method of protection. In many organizations, there will be people that seem to give feedback more than others. Thorns. Feedback is an opportunity to ensure the best decisions are being made. The advantage lies in being able to coach the thorns to give professional, unbiased, balanced feedback. For that, the leader’s job is to create a safe environment for feedback, put their ego aside to honestly digest the feedback and use it for what it is to them.
When thorns are identified…
Mediocre managers think:
“They are always questioning me; I have to get rid of them.”
Good managers think:
“They give me a hard time, but they are making us better. We need to reflect on our process for how decisions are made.”
Great managers think:
“They make us better. We need to stay close to this person to ensure they stick around and coach them on how to give feedback more effectively. How can we spin this to our advantage and get them to buy-in? Have we given others the proper chance to comment before announcing a decision that was made too early?”
The timing, patterns and emotionality of the feedback should allow the leader to predict when feedback is coming and better yet, reach out to obtain proper feedback before making the final decision. This allows the full decision to go out without having to adjust afterwards, potentially contributing to a leader’s loss of confidence by the staff.
A leader’s goal is not automatic, unanimous buy-in. If that occurs each time a decision is made:
the topics don’t carry much weight
people are scared to give feedback
people are heavily disengaged
Who are your thorns?
Harness their power; they can save the plant or the aircraft.
Soften your edges…
When it is safe for others to challenge you, good things happen if you are willing to listen.
a side observation here is the use of “I” in the mediocre category versus the consistent use of “we” in the great ones.
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