Being a leader is never a popularity contest


Today, I will not be popular. Today, I will cause a major problem for some people. Today, I will be a leader.

Last week a leader came to me with a safety concern. He was witness to a major breach of a safety rule involving working at heights. He described what he saw. We both agreed it was pretty bad.

I asked “Did you intervene?”. He looked down and said “No. I didn’t” in lower tone then usual for him. I could tell he felt ashamed.

He raised his head and looked me straight in the eyes. “I wanted to. I really did but I couldn’t.” he said.

“I was afraid of the consequences. Retribution!” he said.

I thought about it for a moment and agreed again. This place isn’t that accepting of these type of learning opportunities. Break a rule and the consequences is typically punishment.

He handed me his phone. “But I took a photo!”. I looked at it. No direct faces but these guys are identifiable. “I don’t want these guys sacked but their leaders need to know what they did and help them understand that’s not right!”.

If only their leaders would do that! It saddened me to think we are still fearful of doing the right thing. After 4 years of trying to build a no blame culture, a culture which looks for chances to learn, especially free lunches like this one!

I spent the next couple of days trying to point “interested parties” to the clues which will lead them to this incident. I was hoping for self discovery rather than me having to put my head on the block and drag them there. I too was fearful of consequences for me.

A lesson from the un-programmed

Then came the discussion with my son. We were doing his homework together. He was explaining about being confident in doing his work. He told me about fear and how most people fear, fear itself. “And that’s why it is important to be brave when you are learning, Daddy”.

Fear and being brave. Having the courage to do, what you know deep down is right even though you are not sure of the outcome.

“Hello David. Wake up” rang through my ears.

So, I will show the courage necessary to do what I know is right. To approach this issue as a leader not an informant. To not fear the possibility of negative consequences for me, rather create positive consequences for all. To truly use this incident as a coaching, learning and leadership opportunity. To set in motion the things necessary for the safety culture we all talk about but still eludes us.

Today, I will not be popular. Today, I will cause a major problem for some people. But today, I will be a leader.


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