Commentary by Becki White
Men and women in leadership positions know they need to surround themselves with people who will help move their organization forward. Good leaders identify people in the organization who are willing to disagree with the leader, not to be contrary, but to offer ideas and insights grounded in their own experience and personal reflection. Good leaders recruit people who may challenge their views on different topics and surround themselves with people from a variety of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. This combination of diverse experiences creates diversity of thought, and likely leads to diversity among the command staff. Because not all members of the organization have the same experiences, by integrating different perspectives into the leader’s decision making, he or she can better understand the impacts of their decisions on all members, not just those with similar perspectives and experiences to their own. Sometimes this creates discomfort as the leader’s viewpoint is challenged and they learn in some cases their idea is not the only or best idea.
Unfortunately, there are many organizational leaders who take the comfortable path and surround themselves with like-minded people, often referred to as “yes-men.” In these leadership teams, thoughts and ideas are not challenged. The leader will always be right. Their leadership teams are made up of people who look just like them, who have had the same experiences, and who take on the role of “Us” in the “Us against Them,” separating leadership from the rest of the organization.
If you are a leader, take a look at your team. Are they the same gender, same race, same age-group, same background? If that’s the case, take a look in your closet, because it’s likely you’ve been parading around your organization wearing the emperor’s famous clothes. It’s possible your team has agreed with all of your “fabulous” ideas, while members of your organization sit and watch you dance around in your birthday suit, blissfully unaware of how much you are failing them. It can be humbling to admit that other people can provide important feedback that not only moves the organization along, but grounds the leader and prevents them from making decisions that would leave them in their royal underwear in front of others.
Becki White, assistant chief of operations for the Chanhassen (MN) Fire Department has served more than 17 years in the fire service in every level from firefighter to chief officer. Becki has a master’s degree in education and Executive Fire Officer designation from the National Fire Academy. Becki’s business, Elevate Learning Consulting, specializes in developing and delivering presentations, training program management, and instructor and leadership coaching. She also serves as an advisory board member for Fire Engineering and FDIC International and the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education.
Elevate Learning Consulting: www.elevatelearning-mn.com
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