SNIPERS, NUN, and A LEADERSHIP LESSON FROM JACK STACK

The bad news has arrived — The truckers are going on strike.

On hearing it, my eyes became blurry. I sensed a slight weakness in my legs.

“At this time?” I murmured to myself. Our company is on the verge of bankruptcy, and we are working hard to turn around it. Shit! It is going to be a terrible setback.

After a couple of minutes of wariness, I gathered myself and began to explore solutions. Unfortunately, the racing mind kept hitting dead ends.

After some time, I realized, “I cannot just sit like this and waste time.” —With a bit of urgency, I got up and went out of the room and called my teammates.

Once they assembled, I began to speak, “Friends, you might have heard that truckers are going on strike.” Everyone nodded.

I continued, “We needed steel to build tractors. Without that, we have to keep the company closed. It means that people have to be sent home. We wouldn’t get paid, and we would not be able to put food on the table. I’m sure that you are all aware of them.”

After taking a deep breath, I pressed on, “As a manager, it is my responsibility to make sure that we get the steel we need. I tried to get steel delivered from our suppliers. Unfortunately, snipers are shooting at the trucks.”

I paused and looked at the worried faces of my teammates.

Then I said, “Frankly, I don’t have the faintest idea how to get the steel past those snipers. I need help from you people. Please, share with us some ideas. How are we going to transport two tons of steel without getting our heads blown off?”

After a moment of silence, one person spoke, “School buses.”

With a puzzled look, I uttered, “School buses?”

He answered, “Yes. They wouldn’t shoot at school buses, would they?”

I saw his point.

At the same time, another person replied, “Would the snipers shoot? Well, it depends on who’s driving the buses.”

He also offered the solution, “They wouldn’t shoot at nuns driving school buses.”

That’s exactly what we did — We rented school buses and dressed our drivers up as nuns. And our assembly lines kept running. We survived.

Why am I telling you this story?

There’s a common belief that managers/leaders should have solutions for every problem on their watch. With my experience, I can state that that belief can get leaders/managers into deep trouble. It will set them up for failure. He/she will lose credibility. The hard fact is that no one can have all the answers.

Leverage Your Employees’ Knowledge — You’re much better off sharing problems, using the people you work with to come up with solutions. It’s good for your more rapid career growth. A manager should be more of a facilitator. He/she has to host the gathering, take a step back and let the members lead the discussion and run it.

There’s another added advantage — Employees solving the present problem frees up the managers to think about the future problems. You focus on future problems, you eliminate surprises. And, it’s good for everyone.

Give Confidence By Appearing As A Follower — A manager’s job is to train his people to become effective problem solvers. He/she has to build confidence in them. To do that, he/she has to show people that he/she is a human and makes several mistakes — that he/she doesn’t know answers for some of the problems. A leader/manager has to seemingly appear like one of the followers — like an ordinary person similar to them — that would give confidence to them to improve themselves.

Reference: The above story and the leadership lesson is from the book ‘The Great Game Of Business by Bo Burlingham and Jack Stack. The manager in the story is Jack Stack. Jack Stack is the Founder, President, and CEO of SRC Holdings Corporation.

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