Monday, October 4, 2010

Lemmings- Avoiding leadership catastrophes

Most animal species have a dominant sex. Either the male or the female takes charge for leadership of the family or group unit. While in Africa I saw the exception to this general rule. That exception is the Wildebeest (sometimes called the Gnu since the noise they make sounds like someone saying the word gnu). They have any number of characteristics that are peculiar to their species. Each year the vast herds of Gnus engage in a gigantic on going migration. Some 2 million of these animals traipse from one end of the Serengeti to the other and back again traveling thousands of miles while doing so. During the migration about 200,000 to 300,000 of their number loose their lives to all sorts of dangers: Crocodiles, Hyenas, Lions, rivers, lakes, Vultures and the like. As a result the Wildebeest is a major ingredient in the food chain of their parts of Africa.

I guess there are a number of reasons for this carnage. However, the one that really stuck out to me was the random leadership of the massive Wildebeest herds. Thousand of the animals mill around in an area until, for some unknown reason, one of them starts the next disaster by diving into a lake, or river, or down a cliff, or the like. Then the thousands in the herd follow blindly to their deaths as the Crocodiles, Lions, Vultures, etc. wait for the inevitable mealtime.

We need to choose our leadership (safety and otherwise) based on observable demonstrated character, competence and integrity. The team then works together with leadership to minimize risks and maximize outcomes (safety and otherwise). Seniority, popularity, dominating personality, sex, status and the like are not viable characteristics for leadership (safety and otherwise). Our lives and careers depend on leadership being done as close to perfection as possible. When it comes to safety (and otherwise) we must not make poor choices that have us stepping over the cliffs of risks like Wildebeests (the Lemmings of Africa).

Is it OK to have safety leaders who come from the hourly ranks? The salaried ranks? Who have no safety certification? My answer to these questions is: “Yes, if the observable character of these leaders is what it needs to be.” Don’t get trapped into making an expedient safety leadership decision that in turn can lead to a Wildebeest culture for your organization.

The Doc

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