Leading Is a Hard Hat Zone

By Ann Elliott

hard hat
Steel toe shoes, goggles and hard hats are standard equipment for a construction site — a place where change visibly occurs. Whether a new structure emerges from ideas on a blue print or an historic cotton mill is transformed into luxury living space, change is occurring.  New construction or redevelopment can be a dangerous place for the unaware as well as the experienced leader. Change is a hard hat zone. By its very nature, leadership requires the leader and the led to change. Situations that need real leadership are ones that “…surface conflicts, challenge long held beliefs and demand new ways of doing things” as pointed out by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky in Leadership on the Line. hard hat As you navigate your way through the challenges and opportunities in the “hard hat zone” keep these points in your tool box: >>Keep the vision clear. Ever lived through a kitchen renovation?  You’ll know that it feels messy and frustrating but the picture of the newly organized living space keeps you going. All changes create discomfort and it’s the vision of what is to be that give the change meaning. >>Recognize that change creates loss. No matter how uncomfortable or dysfunctional a situation is at least we understand it and can predict the outcome with some degree of accuracy. We have the security of the familiar. (Ask women in abusive relationships why they can’t leave or keep returning to the abuser.) Any form of change or movement away from the familiar initially feels like a loss. >>How much change can they absorb? Asking the hard questions and upsetting entrenched norms is disturbing to people. The disruption must take place at a rate they can absorb. Authoritarian, lone wolf mandates from on high do not bode well for productive change. >>Keep your opponents close! President Lyndon Johnson expressed his theory of political opposition colorfully, “It’s better to have your opponent in the tent p___ing out as compared to outside the tent p___ing in.” You can learn a lot from your opponents because usually they have the most to lose from the change. Often they are the most fearful! This fear can express itself as anger, belligerence, and counterproductive behavior designed to derail you because you represent loss to them. Keep them close. >>Be ready to fill the void. Major players may defect because they can’t take the heat.  This creates a gap in the talent pool and it opens space for others to step up to the work at hand. Keep the pool of talent learning and developing and you will be ready when the time comes….and it will. >>Resolve trivial matters. Deep and heartfelt differences can already exist at a subterranean level. It is a small or trivial matter that can bring the polar opposite views to the surface. Is this “making a mountain out of a mole hill?” And when the underlying differences emerge, as the leader you have the opportunity to address the real issues in your organization or team. Resolve them and move on. >>Take time to observe the dance floor from the balcony. Learn the discipline of getting above the day to day activities to view the dynamics of your organization or team from a higher level. Heifetz and Linsky suggest keeping the balance of being on the dance floor engaged in the dance and being on the balcony observing the entire dance floor. >>Put the work where it belongs. Leading is not riding in on a white steed to save the day! When “adaptive change” is necessary to solve a problem, it’s the people with the problem who need to do the work and the changing. >>Lead by example. I have observed companies in which the CEO or division leader wanted change and knew it was necessary to prevent decline but expected it was everyone else to do the changing! On any construction site, everyone needs to wear a hard hat. Remember your role as leader is your “role.” Do not confuse it with “you.” Bring to your role as leader your values, unique brilliance, experience and expertise. Your authentic self is expressed in the world through your role as leader. Show up fully, play to win, have fun and make it easy for those around you to do the same.  Playing at a higher level takes courage.  Remember to wear your hard hat.

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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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