Stacey C. Cunningham
In the realm of leadership, your 'crew' closely observes your every move. Your behavior, reactions, words, and responses send powerful signals about what you consider acceptable, valuable, and important. If you aspire to inspire trust, open communication, and excellence within your crew, your actions and words must cultivate a culture that embodies these qualities.
The Importance of Signals
Captain Mike Abrashoff emphasizes that every decision made and every action taken trains the crew on how to operate. The signals you send, consciously or unconsciously, play a pivotal role in establishing the norms and values of your team. As he states,
"The signals you send are important. You train your crew how to operate through every decision you make and every action you take" (ch.3).
The Power of Empathetic Leadership
Abrashoff shares a compelling story of a seemingly straightforward case involving a soldier who fell asleep on watch. Rather than reacting swiftly and punitively, Abrashoff chose a different path. He sought to understand why the sailor had fallen asleep. It turned out that the same soldier had been assigned to clean the workspace until 8 AM due to staffing shortages and then immediately assigned to watch. This incident served as a powerful wake-up call for Abrashoff, highlighting the importance of approachability and open communication.
Three Questions for Reflective Leadership
To ensure he provided the necessary support to his crew, Abrashoff developed three questions he would ask himself before giving an order or responding to poor results:
By thoroughly examining these questions, Mike demonstrated that his crew's well-being and success were his top priorities. This approach signaled to his team that they were valued and supported.
The Truth-Telling Culture
Abrashoff recounts an incident as an ensign on the USS Albert David, where the commanding officer and commodore lied to protect their careers after damaging a propeller. When a junior officer overheard the truth and shared it with a friend, the commanding officer resorted to threats. Abrashoff recognized the detrimental impact of such a culture on trust and honesty within the ranks.
To foster a culture of truth-telling, leaders must be willing to speak and hear the truth respectfully. Abrashoff asserts,
"It would be far better if we developed a culture that allowed people to tell the truth... Instead, we have a culture that repeatedly shows lower ranks how the upper ranks lie or evade the obvious truth to avoid blame and save their careers" (ch.3).
Take a moment to reflect on a recent situation where you may not have sent a productive or desired signal.
As a leader, your signals have a profound impact on your crew. By leading with empathy, asking reflective questions, and fostering a culture of truth-telling, you create an environment that promotes trust, open communication, and excellence. Remember, your crew is always watching, so be intentional with the signals you send, for they will shape the behavior and performance of your team.