For the last week or so, I’ve helped take care of my grandchildren. I have a spirited granddaughter who is two years old. Her mother takes a parenting class, and after the last class, she wanted to set up a game plan. I’m usually game for a good game plan and I do try to stay consistent with their parenting standards.
She said that the goal of the week was to immediately follow up on any request made of my granddaughter that was ignored. We had all gotten into the habit of telling her something several times before standing up and ensuring that she did it.
It is a parenting technique that I believe in whole-heartedly. Her comments reminded me of my resolve when my children were little to make sure that there was no question about whether or not I meant something when I said it.
I went to playgroups and saw other moms who didn’t back up what they said. They sat in the same spot and said, “Honey, don’t do that” over and over while Honey continued to do as she pleased. Honey knew her mom wasn’t standing up, I knew it, everyone in the room knew it, people passing by knew it as did their dogs. There was no reason for Honey to stop because there were never going to be any consequences. Honey’s Mom was never going to stand up. I call getting up immediately when an instruction is ignored the Stand Up Technique.
The Stand Up Technique also applies to great leadership. As leaders, we must be ready to follow up on the tasks we assign. If it becomes apparent to everyone that we are going to ask people to do things and then never make sure those things are done, it becomes highly unlikely that the things will get done. Why should anyone bother when everyone knows that the leader is not going to Stand Up and make sure that there are consequences for tasks left undone?
It is time intensive in the beginning to ensure everyone knows that you mean business. I tell the following story in leadership workshops. Back when circuses kept elephants in chains, handlers put small elephants in big metal cuffs with thick chains attached to long spikes. The baby elephant would try and try to get free but gives up after a while. When the elephant was grown, its handlers could use a small cuff, chain, and spike. The elephant didn’t believe that there is a point in trying to get away. We want to give everyone around us that same impression.
If we begin by ensuring all tasks are done and then administering consequences when they are not, we let everyone know that there is no point in trying to get away with not doing things. They begin to feel confident that we will always check up on things and give consequences as appropriate. After a while, no one even considers not doing a task. What’s the point? Like the large elephant, they’ve decided that resistance is futile.
I feel a need to point out that “following up” and “giving appropriate consequences” does not mean yelling or shaming. We want everyone who works with us to be successful, and that is the mindset that we bring into every conversation. We also want to be respectful of others all the time!
Using the Stand Up Technique also gives us, as leaders, a good yardstick for our words. If I ask someone to do something, am I willing to follow through and do what needs to be done to ensure my request is completed? If not, I should keep my mouth shut. I ruin my credibility if don’t see things through to the end.
I am reminded of a statement by Horton the Elephant in Horton Hatches the Egg. He tells the terrible mother Mayzie that he will sit on her egg and protect it. Through a series of challenges that include hunters, Horton refuses to give up the egg. He says, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.” We all need to be elephants in that we are one hundred percent faithful to the words that we speak.
The first question we should ask is “Does it matter?” Does it matter if someone does it his or her own way? Does it matter if they fail? Does it matter if that task is done at all? If the answer is “Not really” or “Only to me,” let it go.
Marshall Goldsmith lists a couple of good questions to ask ourselves in Triggers: “Will my input improve this situation?” and “Am I truly helping or trying to prove how smart I am?” Asking ourselves these questions can get us to pause and be selective about the tasks that we assign and the things that we say.
The bottom line is that everyone, both children and adults, will take our requests to heart if we mean what we say and ensure that we said what we meant. Horton is a great role model.
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