One of our team members approached me as I was walking our production floor the other day. They asked to talk and I could tell they had a concern. We had just reimplemented face masks, and they were very concerned that the company had made the decision to go through with hosting our outside BBQ a week later. I clarified that our Executive Team had discussed cancelling the event, but we were instead going to spread out both eating times and eating stations. We were also going to mandate that masks stayed on while people were in lines. We were also giving people the opportunity to eat privately at their designated work stations if they chose. This eased this person’s concern somewhat, but they mumbled something about the risk as they walked away.
No less than ten minutes later, I was followed into my office by another team member. I could tell this person also wanted to talk. I braced for what this conversation would be, but to my surprise, this person wanted to comment on a recent memo I had sent out regarding our hourly pay increases. They told me how proud they were that they worked here, and how much they felt we valued people.
This ten minute span is leadership in 2021, an environment where you can feel like a bad leader, and good leader, all in a matter of minutes.
There are lessons to be learned from these two exchanges.
First, no decision is going to please everyone. This was true pre-2020, but it is increasingly true post-2020. Our culture used to “agree to disagree,” but now people do not just disagree, they are morally offended.
Second, leaders need to be careful basing their views on themselves from what others think about them. Neither view above is entirely correct, but I can learn from both. The first teaches me that we should be more careful in communicating both what we are doing, and why we are doing it—at Hoffer Plastics, we believe that we need time together in a social setting and that when safely conducted, it is worth the risk. The latter teaches me to continue to err on the side of people and passionately communicate that belief.
Third, both these conversations teach that especially in this season, leaders main duty is to be lightning rods. We need to absorb the strikes (opinions, feelings, perspectives). We need to listen to them, consider them, and fully understand them. Both team members above meant well. The temptation is only to absorb the second one because it is sugary and goes down smoothly. But, the former one is good medicine too. Their opinion is just as valuable as the second one. It may be that our society is more noisy right now because most feel unheard by leaders. Or, instead of being lightning rods, our leaders have often been the ones doing the striking.
I will continue to repeat this mantra over and over: To be someone worth following, you have to be willing to do the hard things. While neither conversation above was necessarily hard, I could have easily been overly offended by the first one. I was not this time.
But, there are times when I am.
It is in those times that I have to remind myself that a leader is a lightning rod. I have to listen, consider, and fully understand what is being said to me.
I have to absorb it.
In the old days, people said leaders had to have “thick skin.”
This is what they meant.
So, let’s be the kind of leaders that absorb the strike, rather than dishing it out.