*As Seen Originally On Forbes
“When you point your finger ‘cos your plan fell through, you got three more fingers pointing back at you…” -Dire Straits song “Solid Rock”
What if every organizational problem was a leadership problem? That’s right, you know what’s coming. We’re not going to play the blame game. Not today, not ever.
Too often when silo mentality is happening, teams or people aren’t getting along, political maneuvers are happening, or just general friction is happening (what I call the “critter state”), we participate instead of leading.
Participating feels so good, so safe. It’s not us, it’s them. The human brain is wired up to belong and, in general, belonging is a good and positive thing. Except when it’s not. The urge to belong is primal. For our ancestors belonging to a tribe meant survival. Humans have a long gestation period and remain under the protection of adults longer than most other species. So, for our infant selves, belonging with the family meant survival. That’s why ostracism feels so painful—like a physical injury that could cause death.
So to avoid that feeling, we participate in toxic cultures. We gossip—better them on the outs than us. We take sides with one group and damn another, be that one team towards another or one hierarchical level towards another. And we criticize the politicians, not realizing that by noticing but not resolving, we are actually participating.
Truth Is The Antidote
Leaders who want their tribe to move toward a smart state need to be willing to risk possible social pain. They need to care enough about a higher value or purpose to tell the truth. This can come from any level, but it means telling the truth directly to the person who can change their behavior and not to anyone else.
Your boss is being a jerk? Have you told him/her? Or do you mutter to your colleagues about how rotten the culture is? If you do, you’re participating. Could you get fired for speaking up? Possibly. Could you create a better relationship with your boss? If you do it right, that’s far more likely.
Does your counterpart on the other team slow your process down and act in generally uncooperative ways? Do you follow up repeatedly like a broken record, by phone or in person? Do you ask, sincerely, what the issue is and how you can help? Or are you participating by hiding your anger and resentment and possibly sending anger bomb emails (wrong format for conflict).
Shifting a culture means holding your higher values clearly in your mind and speaking up directly to the person who’s responsible for any boundaries that are crossed. As cultural leaders we must take a stand and risk the feeling of not belonging with a tribe that’s in critter state.
Remember Safety, Belonging And Mattering
There are three things that people crave: safety, belonging and mattering. These are primal and vital cravings and almost every problem behavior can be linked to times when people don’t feel safe, don’t feel they belong or don’t feel that they and/or their work matter. When someone feels that way they work to get their needs met in other ways—possibly dysfunctional or even toxic ways.
Are you resolved to reduce friction in your workplace? Telling the truth about where you and where your culture stands in terms of safety, belonging and mattering is a great place to start.
Here are three sample questions from the “Safety Belonging and Mattering Index” to get you started. Rate yourself from 0-10 where 0=never, 2.5=rarely, 5=somewhat consistently, 7.5=consistently and 10=always.
Before you solve a problem you need to assess it. Answer the questions first from your personal point of view:
1. When I make a mistake I am corrected with respect and the desire to help me improve.
2. I trust my team members and colleagues to support my and the company’s success.
3. I receive acknowledgement and appreciation at work.
Great. Now that you have a sense of whether you personally feel like you have safety, belonging and mattering, go back and answer the same questions from the point of view of your team.
Done? Notice if and where there are any differences.
No Pain – No Gain
Change is stressful for people even when we logically know it’s for the good. Keeping people aligned is not only crucial for success, but it’s way more engaging and fun.
So remember, even if it feels like telling the truth will be painful, it’s short-term pain for long-term positive results.