As a leader one of the most valuable practices you implement for your emerging leaders is to systematically explain the why behind the what.
We’ve all probably heard the story of the scientific experiment about the monkeys, banana, and water.Five monkeys are locked in a cage, a banana was hung from the ceiling and a ladder was placed right underneath it. As predicted, immediately, one of the monkeys would race towards the ladder, to grab the banana. However, as soon as he would start to climb, the researcher would spray the monkey with ice-cold water. But here’s the kicker – he would also spray the other four monkeys. When a second monkey tried to climb the ladder, the researcher would again spray all the monkeys with the cold water. This was repeated again and again until they learned their lesson – climbing equals a spray of cold water for everyone, so no one climbs the ladder. Once the five monkeys knew the drill, the researcher replaced one of the monkeys with a new inexperienced one. As predicted, the new monkey spots the banana, and goes for the ladder. However, the other four monkeys, knowing the drill, jump on the new monkey and beat him up. These actions get repeated four more times with a new monkey, each time and astonishingly each new monkey, who had never received the cold-water spray himself, would join the beating up of the new guy. Eventually, all the monkeys had been replaced and none of the original ones are left in the cage (that had been sprayed by water). At the end of the story you have a group of monkeys who are acting but they have no clue of the real reason why behind what they are doing.
A similar thing happens in a cult-like culture. Employees start taking action because they are trained by the culture to do so, but they do it without the leader’s insights or contexts. In certain senses this can be a good thing, because it can keep everyone moving in the same direction. However, you’ll soon find leaders within the organization making decisions without having the proper framework to make those decisions. Then the opposite of what you originally intended starts to happen. The decision-making begins to veer the organization. Furthermore, conflict arises as mid-level managers get reprimanded for what they thought was a wise decision in alignment with the culture.
As a leader, the sweet spot is when you have created a compelling culture, trained your leadership with the why behind the what, and then empowered them to make decisions in a way they believe is in alignment with the vision and what’s best for the organization. Obviously that is easier said then done. But that can be the target we aim for. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Let your team know that you want to move in this direction.
- Let your team know that you may not be able to explain every decision in the moment but you are willing to circle back around as things settle down.
- Allow your team time to ask questions about situations without fear of repercussions. (Growing up my parents did this and called it “safe-time.” I’m sure it was something they got from Dr. Dobson.)
- Get in the habit of explaining your thought process with your team, even on simple decisions.
- Ask God that he would help you truly develop leaders and to give you a desire to see them grow and win (and not just for your own benefit).
- Try to always believe the best about your team members. Let your first assumption be that with more insight and vision they may make better decisions.
- Be willing to adjust your thought processes as you learn from the conversations you have with your team. Share with the entire team how your thinking is growing from insights they give you.
- Understand that one of the most valuable things you can give to your team is a chance for them to be heard and understood. Many times they will be totally fine with any direction if they feel they have been heard.
- Model the behavior you want to see from them. In fast paced situations maybe give them the benefit of the doubt and plan a time to revisit the situation later and learn from them.
What are you doing in your leadership context to give people they why behind the what?