I have often found that some of the best examples and learning experiences come from the stories we learned as children or read to our children as parents or grandparents. By their nature children’s literature and books help to develop emotional intelligence and creativity, and they are written with the thought to nurture growth and develop a person’s personality and social skills. These are all skills we aspire to and are trying to develop as leaders. Children literature provides students with the opportunity to respond and develop their own opinions about topics but within the guidelines of right and wrong and moral and ethical behavior.
Leaders must develop emotional intelligence along with their educational intelligence and business acumen. Sometimes a simple children’s story I find, can help people see the bigger picture, promote moral and ethical behavior, and maybe, just maybe not take themselves so seriously that they lose sight that it is not always about them but about us.
With this in mind, I have chosen the book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, to highlight and identify our roles and responsibilities as leaders and employees in an organization, or on the bus. As you read the book and think about the three key characters you realize we will all play the role of one of them and many times all three in an assignment or day. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did as I read it to my children and used it as a great leadership lesson.
The Bus Driver: The Bus driver sets the tone from the top. He or she is the leader. As the leader, the bus driver defines management’s leadership and commitment towards openness, honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior from a values perspective. From a mission statement perspective, the mission statement for a company as defined is an official document that sets out the goals, purpose, and work of an organization. A clearly defined mission statement can help the leaders of an organization, and in this case the Bus Driver, strengthen the company or bus culture through a unified sense of purpose, help the team and, in this case, the people on the bus improve decision-making with clarity and purpose supporting the big picture of the company.
The leader must enhance cross-functionality and relationships through a shared vision and understanding of priorities. Put another way, everyone on the bus must understand the destination, how we are getting there and their roles in getting us there. The leader, the bus driver, must articulate the vision for the organization and or the bus. The leader must define the optimal desired future state, define, articulate, and describe the mental picture of what the organization wants to accomplish over time and where the Bus is going.
The bus driver provides guidance and inspiration as to what an organization is focused on achieving in the future. The employees or people on the bus must understand their work, every day, and contribute towards accomplishing the goals and aspirations of the company and the Bus.
Finally, the bus driver must succinctly write and speak to be inspirational in a manner that makes it easy for all employees and people on the bus to repeat “what good looks like.” The bus driver strengthens the culture through a unified sense of purpose, improves decision making with clarity and understanding the big picture and the vision of what we do, who we want to be, and how we want to do it. As the leader, the bus driver, sets the tone and through his or her leadership upholds honesty, integrity, and ethics, lives the value and mission statement, and does not silently sanction bad behavior. The employees and people on the bus are more likely to uphold these same values and principles. The bus is coordinated and traveling in the right direction.
The People on the Bus: They represent leaders in the organization at all levels. The management team at all levels must clearly communicate the companies’ ethics, values, and mission throughout all areas of responsibilities at all levels. It is unacceptable to make statements like “Corporate said “, or in this case “the bus driver said.” When a leader or a member of the bus makes these types of statements, they give away their authority and send the wrong message to their people.
The values can be communicated in many ways, meetings, and informal gatherings, one on one communication, or the informal day-to-day operations. Regardless, they must be things that everyone on the bus can articulate upon request and emulate when the opportunity presents itself.
Maybe another story can help bring clarity to this thought of how you as a leader choose to see things:
Three people were laboring in a field of boulders and large stones. Sweat ran from their foreheads as they swung their heavy picks again and again. A curious passer-by approached them and asked each what they were doing.
- The first person answered in a stern and abrupt voice: Can’t you see? I am breaking rocks!
- The second person replied in a matter-of fact way: Can’t you see? I am earning my salary!
- The third person smiled-their eyes gleaming with enthusiasm- and proclaimed: Can’t you
see? I am helping to build a Cathedral!!
Leadership is not a passive duty, it is about creating the vision, bringing it to life and it is an active responsibility. It is expected that you lead. This means providing your people with the leadership they need in all areas of their work. You have a responsibility to model effective leadership along with honest and ethical behavior to the employees you represent. Open and honest communications and visibility are an essential element of trust. Make sure you are available to your people and visible in your operations or department and that your people know what we are trying to accomplish even if it is unpopular, and the pigeon is insistent on wanting to drive the bus!
The Pigeon: represents many of the good people who you work with and for us. Most of them are good people and, as in all organizations, some are not so good. The vast majority are however good people. What are some of the reasons that our people (or in this case the pigeon) do not represent our values, mission and or ethics? Sometimes they do not know why the values are important. If you make the values, mission, or ethical behavior personal and something they can see and understand, they are less likely to ask you that question that seems so out of step.
Secondly, the pigeon may not know what they should be doing to live the values. As we have said throughout, as the bus driver or a leader on the bus, you must teach them what to do and how to do it so that their actions and questions are not in direct conflict with the views of the organization.
Thirdly, they think, and in this case, the pigeon believes and thinks, these rules are for someone else. You know this by their persistent questions. The pigeon is hoping that persistence overcomes resistance.
The fourth reason may be that they have not been rewarded for living the values, mission, and ethics of the company. This consistent validation of good behavior is so important in an organization. Maybe a previous leader looked the other way and now you are trying to correct it. Show you appreciate their efforts and their recommendations, but it does not justify breaking the rules. You understand but don’t accept.
A fifth reason may be that they mistakenly believe they are living out and embracing the mission and policies even though their behaviors are in conflict with the organization. Most likely no one has done the challenging work of pointing it out or taken the time to have that serious conversation that this is unacceptable behavior. Remember – nothing happens for the good, long term, if your people do not live the values, mission, and embrace the ethics of the organization, it starts with you the Bus Driver. You must address violations whether it is in speech or actions
quickly and deliberately. You must take the appropriate action according to your companies’ policies as well as what is morally and ethically correct.
Finally, as the pigeon believes in this example, they perceive that following the rules, living the values, believing in the mission and strategy can be stifling and punishing. They believe they have a better way and the rules do not pertain to them. They may be great employee who thinks their results allow them to have a separate set of rules. Explore their feelings and understand their passions. Helping them to reconcile organizational values with their personal values is critical to them – doing the right thing when no one is watching. While their desires and aspirations are important, everyone must be coordinated with the goals and vision of the organization. The expectation is that no one should be asked to do anything immoral, unethical
or against the law.
Regardless of who you are, the bus driver, the members on the bus or the Pigeon; all play a significant role in the success of the organization, and all are key members on the bus. These elements, mission statement, values, ethics, procedures and practices and the tone from the top, are in place to help meet and exceed the vision for the organization in all facets of the business. Your role, whether it is as the bus driver, member of the bus or pigeon continues to be that catalyst for change, the person who understands, accepts, and lives the mission statement and emulates the values in all you do. The result of these actions will be a great company (BUS) providing great service that we all can be immensely proud of. What we all should continue to do, regardless of our job responsibilities or roles, is provide outstanding service to our customers both internally and externally.
As our bus continues to roll along and we move thru difficult periods on our way to success, I want you to keep this thought in mind as we engage with our customers and work with each other.
“Do the “right thing” rather than “things right”. Let’s take care of our customers, treat each other with dignity and respect, celebrate our successes and our reward well be “ The Bus of Choice “ – a company that we are all proud to say is our company and a place the pigeon thanks us for not driving the bus but is excited about other ways he or she can participate.
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