In my new book Leading at Light Speed I talk about the concept of leading through others to relieve pressure in the workplace. What do I mean?
Think of flying on an airplane with an open seating plan such as Southwest. You’ve come across an aisle seat. The middle and window seats are open next to you. As people stream down the aisle looking for a place to sit, what do you do?
If your orientation is toward other people, you make eye contact, inviting them to take the seat next to you. But if you’re not familiar with other people–you evade eye contact and keep your face hidden behind a newspaper. Maybe you put a section of the newspaper in the seat next to you. When someone tries to take a seat next to you, you look up briefly, scrunch up your legs, and let them fend for themselves.
This “Southwest Test” may not seem like much. But it says a great deal about who you are and your capability to direct others. A lot of information is transmitted in those few moments – am I a person who can be counted on to look out for other people? Or am I a primarily looking out for myself? It goes without saying which type of person is better able to build trust – and who triggers people’s cheater meters.
In some organizations, especially those driven by “Type A” managers, a relentless pressure to perform can drain people’s energies. Successful leaders alleviate the pressure in ways that aid people to find out how to trust one another. Psychologists call this ability to regulate pressure “systemic stress management.” It’s why sailors get shore leave, why people get holidays, why organizations create social occasions.
At Lehman Brothers, where hundreds of highly paid broker-dealers manage the daily ebbs and flows of the stock market, their Friday afternoon get-togethers are a chance to let off steam. As one executive put it: “If you don’t bring food to the office, people will always go hungry.” Lehman gives people yet another reason to appreciate the company’s level of attention and care.
People relax by playing volleyball during their lunch hour at the Intel campus in Roseville, California. Players fill the two sand courts everyday. A soccer game pick up on a field close by.
Gregory Kolt, a professor of psychology at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand says, “To maintain a high level of focus is fatiguing”. He says the trick is to attain enough idle diversions so that you can improve your focus at the perfect time.
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