Matt Lane




A leader cannot change people

The limitations of legacy hardware

Matt LaneMatt Lane

Napoleon famously, but probably never, said:

“An army marches on its stomach”

This deceptively simple statement elegantly captures that no matter how smart your strategy is, how advanced your technology is, we are all limited by legacy hardware:

Soldiers are people. People need food.

An army marches on its stomach.

This is the exact same principle that KidsCan is founded on: children cannot learn if they are hungry. Children are people. People need food.

The same rule applies to adults: A labourer or knowledge worker cannot effectively work at 3pm if they’ve skipped lunch. If you’re using machinery or working on a spreadsheet, it is a recipe for mistakes to happen.

Children are people. Adults are people. People need food.

This point is the base level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

In Maslow’s hierarchy, he proposed that whichever is the lowest level of need that is not being fulfilled, that will be the thing that motivates our behaviour. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on.

Level 1: Biological and Physiological needs — air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep.

Ironically, in a remarkable display of leadership hubris, Napoleon demonstrated his own point perfectly when he failed to ensure his army’s most basic physiological needs. The majority of them froze to death in the harsh Russian winter of 1812.

Soldiers are people. People need warmth. People need shelter.

Had Napoleon’s army been administered Gallup’s Q12 engagement survey, while freezing to death, they would have scored him poorly on the second question:

“I have the materials and equipment I need at work to do my job”

This is Nadine Burke Harris. She is an expert in public health. In one of her first projects, she was assigned to a local clinic to deal with a raft of medical problems plaguing a lower socioeconomic area in San Francisco. What she found was that a significant proportion of the children in the area had an underlying problem: trauma — they were living in a constant state of fight or flight

“Imagine you’re walking in the forest and you see a bear. Immediately, your hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary, which sends a signal to your adrenal gland that says, “Release stress hormones! Adrenaline! Cortisol!” And so your heart starts to pound, Your pupils dilate, your airways open up, and you are ready to either fight that bear or run from the bear. And that is wonderful if you’re in a forest and there’s a bear.

But the problem is what happens when the bear comes home every night, and this system is activated over and over and over again, and it goes from being adaptive, or life-saving, to maladaptive, or health-damaging.”

If your stomach is full, and your feet are warm, but you live in a constant state of trauma: you cannot thrive.

Children are people. People need to feel safe.

And if you’ve ever worked with a bear, you will have suffered similar problems

Maslow’s level 2: Safety needs — security, stability, freedom from fear.

In 2012 Google conducted a massive research project, analysing all of their teams to determine key characteristics of success.

After struggling, finding very few patterns, they found:

Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and how they view their contributions to the whole.

The top factor determining success:

Psychological safety — feeling comfortable taking risks and being vulnerable

Googlers are people. People need psychological safety.

In the late-90s Shell was building the tallest structure ever made: the Ursa Oil rig in the Golf of Mexico. It horizontal surface was to be the size of two football fields.

Due to its scale, Shell knew how high the stakes were and could predict the number of accidents that would happen on it.

Men who work on oil rigs live by certain rules. They are tough. They work under any conditions. They don’t ask questions. In the early nineties, it wasn’t unusual to see someone die on an oil rig. When that happened, workers had 15 minutes to mourn watching their friend or colleague die in front of them.

For the Ursa project, Shell tried something different. For months leading up to moving onto the rig, workers were put through intense team building exercises. These hyper-masculine oil riggers participated in “sharing circles”, drew a picture of their families, drew timelines of their lives, shared stories of their (sometimes very abusive) childhoods, stood face-to-face asking each other “do I make you feel appreciated?”, and performed foot massages on each other.

When the rig opened, they experienced an 84% decrease in accidents and an above industry average productivity rate.

It turns out, if you are comfortable sharing emotions and being vulnerable, technical information can pass between people more easily. Problem-solving becomes much more efficient.

Saving face consumes resources. Saving face causes mistakes. On an oil rig, saving face causes deaths.

Oil rig workers are people. People need to feel accepted, trusted and loved.

In 2015, the Standish Group published their annual Chaos Report, analysing over 50,000 IT projects worldwide (bringing their total data set to nearly 300,000 projects).

In the IT industry, they found a success rate of less than 30%. Excluding agile projects, the numbers were even direr: 11% success.

When they analysed the top factors of successful projects, these had little to do with processes, tools, governance, compliance, and oversight.

They were:

  1. Executive support (both financial and emotional)
  2. Emotional maturity
  3. User Involvement

Emotional maturity is the collection of basic behaviors of how people work together. In any group, organisation, or company it is both the sum of their skills and the weakest link that determine the level of emotional maturity.

Human beings need friendship, trust, acceptance, affiliation, and feeling that they are part of a group.

Without these things, projects fail.

And only when we satisfy them, can we expect higher performance and higher productivity.

Building robust, resilient relationships is not a task that you can schedule.

A leader cannot change people.

A leader changes environments so others can become the people they wish they were

Ideas from this article all come from books from the WCC Corporate Library:

Thanks Veronica!

Matt Lane

banging rocks together