Recently, the area where we live endured some pretty serious storms. It was straight-line winds, fierce lighting, and thunder that made the whole house shake. Karen and I were immediately awakened by the noise and in minutes we were watching the storm unfold. In that moment, we learned that there was a tornado warning for the area immediately to the south of us, and the powers that be advised that we seek cover. I happened to be watching the radar at the moment of the notification and I couldn’t see the need for cover. I kept watching, and then Karen & I wrestled with the big question: Should we wake the kids?
Yeah, to that point our three kids (10,6,4) were sleeping soundly in their upstairs rooms. For whatever reason, they had managed to sleep through the barrage of thunder and lighting. Now, if you are a parent, you know the magnitude of the question we were wrestling with; if we wake the kids there is a chance we might not get them back to sleep. It was 3am, and the thought of starting my day at that hour was enough to give me a case of the shakes.
The question quickly became: Is this a problem worth waking up the whole house for?
Several days removed from that moment, I found myself pondering this question as a leader. When problems arise, am I alerting everyone or just the people who need to know? After all, my kids didn’t know if they needed to be awake, it was really a choice that only Karen and I could make.
That night we elected not to wake up the kids, and, as it turned out, the tornado warning lasted all of about three minutes. The kids slept through the entire night and not a one of them moved (which is a miracle unto itself). I asked them if they had heard the storm the next morning and they looked at me like I had two heads.
By not waking up the whole house, we avoided panic, stress, and a sleepless night.
As a leader this is a phenomenon that is worth paying attention to: Are we handling things at the lowest possible engagement point, or are we waking up the whole organization for a panic, stress-filled decision-making process?
I see leaders all the time who want the world to know what problems they are dealing with, and I suspect the broadcasting of those dilemmas are to remind everyone what great leaders they are for their organizations. Heck, I know I’ve done it myself.
The more I wrestle with this idea, the more I realize that stressing out everyone else is not good leadership. In fact, it is the opposite. It creates widespread fear and panic, and for the people in the organization it makes the landscape feel unstable.
The key for leaders is knowing when to wake up the house, and when to let people sleep. For a lot of organizations, this could be the difference between success and failure.
In our next blog we will look at filters about when is the right time and who is the right person to be sharing organizational problems.
Proverbs 13:3, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives,
but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.”