The Blue Ridge mountains are at the beginning of their annual glory. God has his pallet and brushes out and is splashing red, yellow and gold all over the mountain sides. I am just returned from a week of watching this annual transformation (hoping that he would transform me as well).
But one morning, sitting on the deck reading with one eye and looking at the trees with the other, I was rudely interrupted and irritated by a day cricket. When it should have been hidden under a leaf somewhere sleeping and waiting for nightfall, it was chirping away repeatedly — chhiiirrrrppppp…chhiiirrrrppppp…chhiiirrrrppppp. One stupid cricket that should have been asleep like all the other crickets was ruining my solitude because it seemed to be chirping just at me. If I could have found it, I would have stomped on it and put me out of my misery.
Most leaders have to deal with day crickets. Too often, we deal with them by stomping on them. We would be better off if we listened to them. It is true that day crickets are often chirping about things that aren’t relevant or sound more like science fiction than reality. But day crickets are often the source of breakthrough ideas that change the future. If Hewlett-Packard had listened to day crickets (the two Steve’s), HP would be Apple instead of Apple being Apple. There are about ten thousand examples of day crickets being stomped on in one organization, but changing the future in another organization because someone would listen to them.
There is another type of day cricket that is stomped on even more. It is the day cricket that tells us the truth about ourselves. How irritating when a day cricket dares to suggest that we are arrogant, or controlling, or lazy, or full of anger and rage, or are acting like a bully, or __________ (you fill in the blank). In True North, Bill George says leaders lose touch with reality when “they reject the honest critic who holds a mirror to their face and speaks the truth. Instead, they surround themselves with supporters telling them what they want to hear.”
Next time you are irritated by a day cricket, take a deep breath, steel yourself, pray for patience, then listen. You’ll be a better leader for it.
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner
Hmmm. Please move that mirror!
As I read your blog I could have sworn I heard a cricket!
Dick, I grasped the concept of “Listening to the Day Crickets” cerebrally early in my consulting career. So many of “our” best ideas were not birthed from “engineering genius”, so much as were gleaned from listening to the folks in the trenches, validating their frustrations and giving them a voice. Their communicated aches and pains were the symptoms of so many problems just under the surface awaiting a solution. This concept moved from my head to my gut during a process optimization project we implemented with one of the world’s largest footwear companies. Sitting with the Chief Supply Chain Officer, I recommended part of our process be to conduct a series of brainstorming sessions with the associates out on the distribution center floor; productive working sessions focused on ideas for improvement from the people dealing with the process, technology and personnel challenges, day in and day out. He quickly shot down the idea saying, “first of all, we don’t call our employees, ‘associates’. ‘Associate’ indicates more influence and ownership than ’employee’, and frankly, our employees, don’t have influence or ownership. I am paying them to get a job done. That’s it.” After, a couple of moments of akward silence (could have used some crickets), he followed up with, “Now, what are we going to do about all of this employee turnover and lack of motivation?” Nothing garners ownership like being heard. And I am not so idealistic to suggest, “There are no bad ideas”; I’ve heard plenty of bad ideas. Heck, I’ve proposed plenty of bad ideas. The art is in creating an environment and framework where people and their ideas can be heard; where people don’t feel like they are going to get whacked if they voice their opinion and are actually rewarded for doing so. And lastly, that the leadership circles back and communicates when those ideas have been implemented and gives credit where credit is due. This is where innovation and winning happens and where people love to work. In Jack Welch’s book ‘Winning’, he asserts creating a culture of candor and implementing town hall-style meetings was a primary source for innovation during his years as CEO. When both Jack and Dick tell me the Day Crickets have something valuable to say, I am all ears!.
Great post. So glad you’re sharing your wisdom in your new blog!
Sometimes those crickets are just interruptions that get me off task. Earlier this week I semi-ignored someone who walked into my office with a question and what I determined was a minor problem. I later realized that I devalued him by doing this and apologized. I sure hope I don’t do that often. Good stuff, Dick. Keep me thinking and self evaluating!