One of the common worries for leaders can be doing something stupid. Taking a course of action that squanders resources or doesn’t accomplish its intended purpose can mean a loss of face and, potentially, credibility for the leader. To help avoid this pitfall, someone in the company needs to come forward and point out to the leader that something won’t work. One such person who helped me avoid doing something stupid was Terry Lynch.
Lynch was the warehouse coordinator for Missoula County Public Schools. His responsibilities included orchestrating the daily delivery requirements for more than 20 locations. This service was the schools’ lifeline for all supplies, payroll, distribution, printing, equipment and furniture. He worked with the drivers and they did a superb job of keeping the schools supplied.
In 2001, the school district needed to reduce expenses, so the idea was proposed to eliminate one of the two delivery driver positions. This required a drastic change in service and placed the onus of all deliveries on one driver. We came up with a delivery schedule that would allow one driver to serve all the locations.
Before making the final decision to eliminate the delivery driver position, we conducted a trial run that was supposed to last five days. At the end of the second day, Lynch came to see me. He explained that the loading dock was being maxed out as items piled up awaiting delivery. As a result, each time the driver came to take a load, it required a lot of heavy lifting. The consistent heavy lifting requirements were taking a toll on the driver as he had little time to physically recover between each delivery.
Lynch expressed concern that while the driver would continue to try to make this new schedule work, eventually the physical requirements would catch up with him and he would have an accident.
Lynch was right. I should’ve anticipated this problem and if the change had gone into effect we would have had an accident. Lynch helped me avoid doing something stupid. Shortly thereafter, the remainder of the trial was canceled and the elimination of a delivery driver position was removed from the budget discussions.
For this type of feedback to come forward, several conditions have to be in place. Mutual trust has to be present, otherwise the feedback won’t come and skepticism about the feedback can creep in. The leader has to be willing to listen to the comments and be prepared to act on them even though the comments sting. There must be a common expectation that when the situation calls for feedback, the person is going to come forward and the leader is going to receive the comments gracefully and with appreciation.
This is easier said than done. It takes commitment and openness to develop trust. The leader must be genuinely receptive to negative feedback. By taking these actions, the leader can get help to avoid doing something stupid.
I worked with Lynch an additional nine years and deeply appreciated the feedback he provided and the trust he placed in me.