Fish Pond Leadership

“In Japanese culture, the koi, or Japanese carp is symbolic of achievement through adversity and attainment of high goals” – Wikipedia. I have about 25 fish in a good-sized back yard pond. They range in size from about 8 “to over two feet. Here's the interesting thing. If these fish lived in a small aquarium,…

“In Japanese culture, the koi, or Japanese carp is symbolic of achievement through adversity and attainment of high goals” – Wikipedia. I have about 25 fish in a good-sized back yard pond. They range in size from about 8 “to over two feet. Here's the interesting thing. If these fish lived in a small aquarium, probably the largest would be less than 10” – koi and goldfish grow in proportion to the volume of water they live in. It's the same with employees … if we want them to do better work, we've got to give them room to grow.

Several years ago, I had an experience which has stuck with me ever since. I was sitting in a circle with a group of nursing home managers. Every corner of the facility was represented in this fascinating group: nurses, food services, housekeeping, security, maintenance … they were all there. I love those kind of groups because each department develops a new appreciation for the others; for their challenges; for their commitment to doing a good job. And you can see this happen right before your very eyes. It's fantastic.

Well this is not about the value of inter-departmental groups, although I truly believe that they benefit the organization. But it is about communication and the valuable insights and observations that can sometimes come from surprising places.

A very interesting thing happened in this group. The woman in charge of Housekeeping began to describe the observations of one of her staff regarding one of the residents. The Director of Nursing suddenly sat up straight in her chair as she realized the significance of what she was hearing. Turns out that what Housekeeping was describing was information about a resident that the nurses certainly needed to know. The Housekeeping director told about how reluctant her staff member was to describe her observation; '' after all, I just clean the floors here. ''

Most of the great innovators and inventors in society were severely criticized or labeled as crazy or even disabled at an earlier point in their lives. Edison, Einstein, Henry Ford, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln all had to dig themselves out from under disability and failure before anyone paid any attention to them.

On your staff you have people whose status and title suggests that their observations may not be important, reliable or valid. Nothing could be further from the truth. As program managers it is our job to make sure everyone is heard. If there are staff members who do not share their views, regardless of the topic or their title, we are not getting the maximum from them. As leaders we need to hear everyone's view and our communication structures should encourage that.

When we listen to our staff, John Maxwell calls it, “walking quietly through the halls” we help people grow. When everyone gets a chance to weigh in, we are saying, “you do not need to wait for a new title or a better education to share your opinion; your views are valued right here and now.” Ironically, when we say someone is OK just the way they are, we are making growth and change more likely. Organizations work better when everyone, from top to bottom is engaged. Do not be surprised if you accomplish new and exciting things when you give employees an opportunity to be validated and grow.