Leadership: What’s Your Wobble?

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There was a time when a report on the discovery of an Earth-like planet would have generated a buzz greater than what occurred when we found out Twitter and Facebook were going public.  Planet hunting has lost some of its zazzle.  The question has shifted from if to when humans will have scientific proof that Earth isn’t the only planet capable of sustaining life as we know it.

To put the search into perspective, hold your thumb up towards the sky.  You have a great view of the sky with a speck of hidden space behind your thumb.  In 2009, NASA launched the Kepler Mission tasked with finding Earth like planets.  According to NASA, Kepler can scan up to 100,000 stars at the same time every thirty minutes.  That sounds like a good chunk of space to a non-rocket scientist like me.  It’s not.  Just as your thumb blocked out an almost unmentionable area, Kepler’s gaze cycles through shavings of space.  Even with the limited search area, it’s estimated that there are more than 1 billion Earth like planets.

Curiosity set in.  I wanted to see what these planets looked like.  As you may have guessed, I’m no scientist.  I had to keep referring back to source websites to confirm which object did the orbiting, the star or the planet.  It also took me a while to figure out that the star in the articles was the sun.  Why didn’t they just say sun?  I get it now, the sun is a star.  I’m just putting this out there so the real scientists that read this will be forgiving of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre I am performing on this extremely interesting subject.  I was also toggling back and forth between Star Trek episodes to keep me in the space zone.

Back to the pictures I started looking for.  I was surprised to find that most of the images were artist’s renditions of what some of these billions of planets looked like.  There were no satellite images for some of the planets scientists had added to the list of Earth like discoveries.  The trouble with detecting planets across space is that they don’t emit as much light as the stars they orbit.  As a planet and its sun orbit their common center of mass, the star dances– it wobbles.  Observing the wobble of the nearby star, was acceptable proof that a planet was nearby and in the zone many believe would increase habitability.  Many of the Earth like planets we hear about were discovered by observing how the objects around them behaved.  Scientists, if there was ever a group that demands tangible and objective evidence– that would be them.  They accepted something could exist even if they couldn’t see that something.  The effect, the wobble of surrounding stars was enough proof.

Let’s travel back to Earth.  Just as in space, our stars wobble.  In the workplace, you can often figure out what kind of leader is in place based on how those stars are wobbling. Over the years I have become more aware of a leader’s impact on group dynamics.  Beyond the traditional sense– beyond delegation or distribution of work.  I mean the real wobble.

Whether it was during my first few weeks at a new job or as part of a team seeking to turnaround a seemingly unsalvageable situation, I had multiple windows that allowed me to develop a fairly accurate picture of leadership style and effectiveness. These windows should always include direct interaction and first hand observations of the leader.  The wobble is important but don’t miss out on direct observation of the planet, the leader.  I don’t recommend you ever make your assessment of any situation soley on input from small groups, individuals that have history of conflicts or competing agendas.   You want to give that leader the opportunity to present himself to you before you’ve made up your mind about them.  Even though this may not change your assessment, it is what we each hope we are afforded if someone is making up their minds about what kind of leader we are.

If you are a leader, I encourage you to observe how your team interacts with each other.  How do they describe the motivation behind wanting to do a good job—is it out of fear that someone will become angry if it’s incorrect or is it from the intrinsic desire to continue to grow and develop.  Team members with either of these motivations may succeed in the sense that they complete tasks. Even if the quality of work they turned in was identical, in the long run, the person motivated out of fear may burn out and not be able to truly gain a sense of team work and engagement.  They may become great at the routine part of a process but never develop that sense of team, belonging and working towards a shared goal.

Leaders, you set the tone of your environment.  Your words but more importantly, your actions communicate what’s acceptable.  Is the dance of your wobbling stars a healthy and positive one?  Some reflection on your actions and interpersonal skill may be in order if you are unhappy with the dance some or all of your team.

One final thought, reevaluate your routine meetings.  Are they necessary?  Are they accomplishing what the goal is?  Does everyone who currently attends need to be there?  Is your team getting what they need from those meetings?  Ask questions and adjust if it makes sense.  If not, communicate back to your team so they know you followed up.

Just as scientists can detect an Earth-like planet without ever visually seeing it, a great leader can be confirmed in a similar manner.  Effective and positively engaged teams don’t happen by accident.  At times the leader does need to be like the far away planets—don’t feel the need to outshine your stars.  Let them wobble a happy wobble.  Let them be recognized for accomplishments.  People know that a good team is a testament to good leadership!

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