Do you know any sheeple? The word “sheeple” was recently in the news when it was revealed in internal emails by a Michigan politician describing what he thought of the Michigan electorate. Sheeple is not a pretty word, but is an apt expression to describe how a great number of people go through their day. Many are largely unaware of and seemingly uninterested in their immediate environment. While this behavior can be irritating as we go about our daily life, sheeple can have devastating effects in organizations.
What does lack of awareness have to do with leadership and organizational effectiveness? Everything. Awareness is first base in terms of getting people moving towards and driving for high performance.
How do you know a sheeple when you see one in your work environment? You will see weakness in one or more of the three dimensions of awareness: self, others and environment. Sheeple have little to no sense of their strengths and derailers (self), little concern or understanding about those around them (emotional intelligence or empathy), and little understanding of the environment in which they need to make an impact.
There is an adage that “it takes all kinds.” This is patently untrue when it comes to sheeple because of the missed opportunities the low awareness causes. Think about it. Do you really want someone on your team that does not understand themselves and their strengths? Do you really want someone on your team who does not have a good understanding of others on the team? Do you really want someone on your team who doesn’t see threats or opportunities in the environment?
Here are five things leaders can do to leverage awareness for higher performance and combat the sheeple effect:
- Look in the mirror. The sheeple described above may be you. To what extent are you aware of self, others, and environment? Take stock of your good/weak points (get perspectives of others too), emotional intelligence, and the critical aspects of your business. An old boss of mine was continually asking me “do you know your numbers for the week/month/quarter?” He was encouraging active awareness of the business environment.
- Assess your team. To what extent does your team display evidence of awareness of self, others and the environment? Are they playing to their strengths? Do they have blinds spots as to their weaknesses? Do they (as Susan Scott writes in Fierce Conversations) take responsibility for their “emotional wake”? Can they articulate what it will take for them to win in their role and where they stand today?
- Start implementing simple awareness raisers. Powerful questions are a great place to start. People’s brains are stimulated and provoked by questions. Statements by leaders can be easily tuned out. Practice use of questions in your interactions with your team.
- Practice being in a heightened level of awareness. Think yellow. The Coopers Color System is a situational awareness tool used widely by law enforcement and starts with white, which is where most sheeple operate. White is a state of assumed safety and low awareness. Yellow is a state of readiness and scanning. Orange is our state when an active threat is detected. Red is when action is taken. As another old boss of mine said “you are only paranoid if you are wrong.” Practice a heightened yellow state and look for threats to your business, opportunities that can be exploited, and ways you can be a better team mate.
- Develop sheepdogs and sniff out the wolves in your teams. Low awareness is not the only characteristic of sheeple. Lack of sense of mission is the other factor. More on that in another post.