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“Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand. Step back and I will act.”

Old Chinese proverb:

“Tell me and I will forget.
Show me and I will remember.
Involve me and I will understand.
Step back and I will act.”

Look at the first part of each of those lines.

Telling ain’t training. How many training sessions have you been through during which the instructor read the Power Point slides? Stab me in the eye with a sharp stick so I stay awake. How effective was that “training?”

Show me. We are visual beings, so we absorb a lot of communication through our eyes.

Involvement gets you engaged. How many times has someone driven you to a location but you can’t recall how to get there — but if you drove there yourself you could?

Stepping back and letting people find their way ... oh, that’s unique, and it’s not so easy for a manager or supervisor. Like management consultant and author Peter F. Drucker [1909-2005] said, “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done.”

As a technician, do you perform better at work when you have all the resources you need or when you have all the resources but the manager or supervisor is hovering over you, scrutinizing your every move? Look at this from the supervisor’s point of view. He or she has been tasked with getting the plane out on time, assumes that responsibility and has a vested interest in the repair you are doing. He or she is going to “super” (hover overhead) and “vise” (clamp down or scrutinize). WOW — it’s in the title. That’s a play on words, but he or she has as much involvement in moving the plane as you do in repairing it.

Push and pull

He or she believes that they can assist you in accomplishing the repair quicker by pushing you to work faster, redirecting or whatever. This is what is referred to as a “push” system. What typically happens is that the manager’s or supervisor’s efforts tend to have the opposite effect and slow things down. This increases the supervisor’s anxiety and he or she pushes harder, slowing things down further.

Now contrast this against what is referred to as a “pull” system. The supervisor has the same agenda to get the plane out on time. The technician has all the resources needed. The supervisor ensures that needed resources are provided to the technician and any distractions or interruptions are redirected away from the technician so he or she is not disturbed in performing the task. The only interaction between the technician and supervisor during the operation is to check occassionally to see if the technician needs anything and to assess progress.

The one system pushes employees over obstacles whereas the other system clears the obstacles from the path. Which one requires a leader? That is an easy question to answer. You lead from the front not, from behind. You push from the back and pull from the front. Look at the role each plays. In the push system, the supervisor is interjected in the work process that is already being accomplished. It is an overlay of work that is already being worked. In the pull system, the supervisor is also a part of the process — but here the supervisor fulfills an unfilled need that is not being worked. Let me make myself clearer. The push system adds unneeded hands in making the pie. The pull system stays out of the pie-making activity but ensures that the pie maker has what is needed.

Beware; pull is the best way to go, but there are occasions where leaders must do some pushing. There is a reluctance to engage at times and a friendly push is what is needed. You undoubtedly experienced this where someone tried to convince you to do something (pull) but to no avail. If all the convincing is not working, there may be a need revert to pushing you into acting.

There is good and bad to this. You see it in sales techniques. Have you been to a car sales person who told you all the features of the car and when you still didn’t commit to buying deferred to “What do I have to do to put you in this car today?” It progresses to getting a little more aggressive. “Here is the price I will sell the car at, but this offer is only good for today.” The pressure is on. The reason these tactics prevail is because they are effective and they work. It gets you to act more times in the direction of the push than it does in forcing you to walk away.

Moderation and trust

So how do you get to that stage where the employees understand that when you push you are not micro-managing? You have to use the push method sparingly. How do you get to the stage where the employees understand that you are there to help them do their job? “Hi, I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help.” Not very convincing, is it?

First, understanding takes time and can be shortened if your reputation precedes you. If you carry a legacy from other positions that you are a trusted supervisor and your management method is clearing a path for the employees to progress, it will shorten the learning and understanding curve. What is that magic trait? It is called mutual trust.

Mutual trust is difficult to obtain and easy to lose. Mutual trust is the starting point to the next step of Just Culture. I know what you are thinking ... “Oh boy, here it comes again, another touchy-feely program.” I am not going to deny it — yes, it is touchy feely, but I am not going to call it a program. A program has an ending. This does not have an ending; it is ongoing and should be part of the culture. Since Just Culture has a touchy-feely component, most supervisors and managers will shy away because it isn’t tangible. However, Just Culture will be left for another article. Let’s do baby steps and build trust.

There are costs to obtaining and retaining customers in marketing. The same analogy can hold true to mutual trust. If it takes X dollars to obtain a customer, it will take one-half X to retain them. However, if lost, it will take two or three times X to win a customer back. The point is that it is cost effective to keep the trust gains you make. Treat your employees and yourself as mutually-essential parts in the organizational network, not as assets — assets get sold. If the employees trust you and you trust your employees, they will have the confidence in you to help them in accomplishing their job and you will have the confidence to let them do it. 

Patrick Kinane joined the Air Force after high school and has worked in aviation since 1964. Kinane is a certified A&P with Inspection Authorization and also holds an FAA license and commercial pilot certificate with instrument rating. He earned a B.S. in aviation maintenance management, MBA in quantitative methods, M.S. in education and Ph.D. in organizational psychology. The majority of his aviation career has been involved with 121 carriers where he has held positions from aircraft mechanic to director of maintenance. Kinane currently works as Senior Quality Systems Auditor for AAR Corp. and adjunct professor for DeVry University instructing in Organizational Behavior, Total Quality Management (TQM) and Critical Thinking. PlaneQA is his consulting company that specializes in quality and safety system audits and training. Speaking engagements are available with subjects in Critical Thinking, Quality Systems and Organizational Behavior. For more information, visit www.PlaneQA.com.