F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. — A good test of leadership is how your team reacts to a fire drill. In the moment of a crisis or exercise, will your team be professional or juvenile? How the team handles a drill or an exercise directly reflects on how well you prepared them.
Throughout my career, I was instructed on my responsibility to get out of the building within minutes during a fire drill, and also where people needing assistance should go. I also learned about the roles people play to ensure a successful evacuation. All this sounded great … then came the alarm.
The drill started, I witnessed people questioning the need for the fire drill, the way to exit, who was responsible for what role, what they needed to do before they exited and what they were not getting done. People went to the bathroom, talked, laughed and treated the drill like a joke and/or an inconvenience.
Let us pause for a moment and draw a comparison to how we lead people.
According to “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey, you have to lead people effectively, not manage them efficiently, to build trust and an effective team.
Most supervisors, managers and leaders can state what steps are needed to lead people effectively. They give clear guidance, roles, expectations and feedback. They may even have some cool catchphrases like: “People first, mission always” or “people are our priority.”
After the initial introductions, people are considered part of the mission and, in many cases, become an afterthought. We have a tendency to focus on the mission and run people as another transaction through email or by assigning tasks. Supervisors, managers and leaders will run people efficiently to get to the next task. This forms a habit of transactional leadership.
When change or conflicts arise in a transactional environment, drama will ensue. Because people are creatures of habit, we will resort to quick-fix solutions, such as simple punishments or resolutions. However, if we don’t take the time to find the underlying reason for the conflict, it will repeat and generate dysfunction within the team, preventing you from accomplishing the mission.
According to “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” by Patrick Lencioni, the main team dysfunctions are absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. Does your team have some of these challenges? Then you may be a team in name only.
A supervisor, manager or leader practicing transactional leadership will deal with inappropriate behavior during the fire drill by issuing mass guidance or group discipline and expect a change in behavior. That will last right up until they check their email – forcing them back to the real mission. This sends the message that other things are more important, it takes too much time to properly deal with, and it is not worth the conflict.
This is efficient, but not effective leadership.
The true goal is to use transformational leadership to create a culture of commitment. Leaders need to sell change or growth by using motivation and inspiration to promote change, proactive engagements and prioritizing group progress over individual.
The solution to building a good team and successfully completing a fire drill are similar.
First, establish a clear vision. In the fire drill example: Everyone gets out quickly and safely to save lives. The objective is to get more than 150 people outside within two minutes. The leader can find efficient processes to save time, but to meet the vision you need to get people to change their behaviors. There cannot be a time limit to change their behavior. We are what we constantly do, which makes excellence a habit.
With clear expectations, leaders have to demonstrate what success looks like. Be a role model.
Next, ensure people understand the performance standards. This will not be the same for everyone. No cutting corners; take the time to ensure people understand the importance of changing their behavior. Through good storytelling, vision, persuasion, conversations and role-modeling, the leader can ensure understanding.
Review progress and adjust course. When the next fire drill comes you will see a significant change, but likely will not see perfect results. That is the time to address individual behaviors for those not meeting the standard, instead of doing “group therapy” or group discipline, which does not work and tends to demotivate.
What actions would you need to take? You could have mini-drills and monitor until individuals meet the goal. Then, by the next drill, you will see those who do and don’t meet expectations. It will become clear this way of leading is not an easy process, but it does unite the team toward a common objective.
Follow the same process when leading your people to build a team.
During the next fire drill, I challenge you to be a role model, observer, change agent and leader to make it better.
Make time and lead your people effectively as it relates to the mission, too. As you do this, you will see the culture in your team become more productive, positive and a model for others to follow.