Here in Western Australia, we are in the middle of summer holidays — which means spending a lot of time around water of any sort. It was one of those 40 degree days, so we were at Bicton Baths, a little piece of paradise. The kids were jumping off the jetty into the river; in out, in out, over and over again..
All of a sudden, there was a commotion. Kids were climbing up out of the jetty and talking with that high pitched urgency that kids have sometimes (part squeal, part shout).. I wandered over to have a look at what was going on.
“There’s a stingray in the river,” they were saying.
The interesting thing is that even kids who weren’t in the water and who hadn’t seen the alleged sting ray were saying it with that same sense of absolute confidence.
Now, in part, this is because the kids are well trained — just that morning the nearest beach was closed because of shark sighting — so they know when to get out of the water if there is a sense of perceived danger.
BUT, and here’s the big but. I don’t think there was ever a stingray in the river.
The power of one kid with a sense of urgency and authority in their voice cleared the baths in a few minutes on a 40 degree day.
So, what has this got to do with leadership and teams?
Often it starts because there is a slight disposition or truth to the threat or rumour.
Back to this example — these kids are used to dangers in the water, and know to get out and leave well enough alone. So, it is within the realms of possibility that such a threat did exist, and that fact, together with a confident delivery (from a complete stranger) was enough to cause action..
Think about your workforce, and a time that a rumour has spread like wildfire because it was presented with authority and confidence. Usually there is something there in the first place, some sort of insecurity, worry or culture that allows such a rumour or threat to spread. Think about how people then act on that perceived fact and the subsequent ramifications.
So, what can you do?
The good news is that there is often a heads up in the form of pre grumblings.. People asking questions about their future or the future of the team/business. Or a number of complaints about the same person.
The trick is to be aware of the pre grumblings and listen.. What are they really telling you? It may not be anything more than you need to have more time for people to talk and for you to listen. Maybe there is really an issue that you need to act on. Maybe you need to call everyone together and acknowledge the insecurity, worry and angst of the team.
If you have a reputation for listening and acting, then there is more chance that the person will ask you about the “stingray” before just spreading it to the team. Because, once it is out it is much harder to sort out and deal with.
So, this week’s takeaways:
- Anything that your team asks or tells you is information on the culture and the team dynamics.
- Of course, not everything needs to be acted upon. But if there’s consistent noise or chatter that is left unchecked, then that in itself is building a culture which makes it easier for the rumours to spread.
- Listen and respond as appropriate. And remember the impact those high impact employees can have on your team.
- Build a reputation for being the sort of leader where people will come and tell you about the “stringray” before they tell the whole team and you have to retrospectively sort it out.
Until next week, happy leading.
Ps. In the interests of not denigrating the stingray — it’s pretty unlikely that they would have attacked any child, particularly as they are usually found on the very bottom of the river.