The new rules of safety: Question everything!
It’s time to be more human, says Andrew Sharman.
It’s that time of year isn’t it, where we look back and see how well our plans have come to fruition and start to strategize for the next year ahead. What will we do? What can we achieve? What are our new targets?
Sophisticated frameworks, complex charts, and strategic performance indicators are all created to help leaders and organisations get closer to safety excellence. But the truth is that your strategy fails or succeeds on how leaders – at every level in the company – integrate with the people across the organisation.
A recent study of over one million leaders across 37 countries reveals that only one in every fifteen managers has what it takes to become an effective leader. Strong leaders are clearly a minority group, then, and like all things in short supply, they’re in high demand. (You don’t see job adverts looking for an ‘average leader’ now, do you?)
Experience and acumen
Leaders today need a breadth of business experience and acumen that can be usefully applied to a range of situations, rather than just robust technical knowledge. Research points to four traits that the very best leaders seem to share:
1 – A high tolerance of adversity;
2 – Adaptability to change;
3 – Enterprising spirit;
4 – Efficient decision-making.
I’ll add a fifth. The very best leaders I’ve worked with question everything.
A curious mind
In his brilliant book A Curious Mind, Hollywood producer Brian Grazer reckons that curiosity is: “the spark that starts a flirtation – in a bar, at a party, across the lecture hall. And curiosity nourishes the romance, and all of the best human relationships – marriages, friendships, the bond between parent and child.”
Psychologists define curiosity as ‘wanting to know’.
It starts out as an urge, a simplistic desire, and then becomes more active, more searching: a question.
Everyone that types something into Google is curious about something. And we do this 2.4 million times a minute, every minute of every day. I’ve done the maths for you, that’s over 3.5 billion searches every day. Try as I might, there’s only two things that I haven’t been able to find on the internet:
- The answer to a question that hasn’t already been asked
- A new idea
The internet, as fantastic as it is, can only tell us what we already know.
My first meeting with former MIT professor Edgar Schein, a man I‘ve admired for the fullness of my professional career, was most unusual. On meeting the ‘Godfather of Organizational Culture’, Schein opened with “I’ve been very keen to meet you because I’m captivated by the work you do, I really want to hear all about it”. This surprised me. More so when his questions began seconds later: “What are the challenges you’re facing in your work right now?”, “How do you handle those?”, “What’s the thing that you’re most excited about?” The pattern continued for an hour, almost without pause, and I was ‘on the hook’. Schein took such a genuine interest in who I was and what I did that I welcomed his questions and worked hard to provide answers that would be useful and interesting to him. Several hours later, as the spirited nonagenarian and I reflected on our evening together Schein offered that he had very much enjoyed listening to and learning from my experiences. But he wasn’t the only one learning that evening!
Colourful character and strong opinion may make headlines for Musk, Branson, Oprah and others but the spirit of enquiry is a vastly under-rated leadership quality we all need to cultivate.
Sure, leadership today requires first rate teamwork, collaboration and communication, but it’s tricky – trust and openness at work are on the decline. Being able to question – effectively and efficiently – is therefore not a string to the bow, but a critical survival skill.
Being more human is key. Great leaders build real connections by revealing something about themselves, and by asking something personal of others: with humility, authenticity, and genuine interest.
Zoologist Paul Meglitsch said that “nearly every great discovery in science comes as a result of providing a new question rather than a new answer.” What do you want to know? Who will you ask? And how will your questions make them feel?
The new rule of Safety #22: Question everything!
Consider your own experiences – at work and at home. You’ll notice that authentic human connection is founded on curiosity. To be a great boss you have to be curious about those who work with you. To be a great partner you have to be (and stay) curious about the other person. To be a great OSH professional you’ll need that spirit of enquiry too.
In my books From Accidents to Zero, Naked Safety, and Mind Your Own Business I share questions that help leaders build better relationships around safety – here’s a couple of my favourites:
“If I were working with you on this job, what would I need to know to work safely?”
“What are the things that can cause harm in this task? How do we make sure they don’t?”
“What one small thing could we do right now that would make working here even safer?”
Andrew’s global best-selling book From Accidents to Zero: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Workplace Safety Culture is available to SHPonline readers with an exclusive 25% discount. His new book Mind Your Own Business – co-authored with Dame Judith Hackitt is also out now. Use the code SHP25 at www.fromaccidentstozero.com to order your copies of both books.
Read Andrew’s New Rules of Safety series on SHP here.
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Categories: Behavioural Safety, Blog, Culture And Behaviours, Disruptive, New Safety and Health, Workplace psychology
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