Ideas for leaders in EHS

First Followers and Ninja Warriors: Perspectives on EHS Leadership Today

January 9th, 2019

In my roles as director of EHSxTech and the technology segment leader for Antea Group, I’ve spent time thinking about leadership and bringing people together successfully to build EHS culture and implement initiatives.

What does true EHS leadership look like in a changing world? Here are a couple of ideas that have inspired me—perhaps they will be useful to you too.

1. Finding your “first follower” 

As vividly illustrated in this viral video, in order to be a leader, you have to have followers. (Without them, you are just a weird person dancing alone!) However, once you have one person willing to come alongside you, everything changes. This idea of starting a movement comes from a TED talk by Derek Sivers, which I highly recommend. As he puts it, “…notice that the leader embraces him as an equal. Now it's not about the leader anymore; it's about them, plural.”

This is key--make it easy for people to follow you, and embrace and nurture those brave enough to be first followers because they are your biggest champions. As more and more people join in, the perceived risk of your cause is reduced, and eventually the scales tip to such a degree that people want to join you in order to be part of the “in” crowd. And nothing would be more impactful for an EHS program than to be something people are clamoring to be part of.

2. Taking the leap

I was also inspired by this EHS Today article that took lessons for EHS success from American Ninja Warrior. As many of you know, the show features a very difficult obstacle course that competitors have to successfully navigate as quickly as possible, including multiple variations on overhead swinging bars. When asked about the most difficult part of the course, one contestant replied that it was “letting go” of one bar to get to the next bar. In order to complete the course, you had to make the leap between the safety of the bar you are on, and the next bar, just beyond reach.

The author makes the EHS connection clear: “No one really objects to a brighter future or the adoption of new techniques and technologies; they simply have a difficult time letting go of the present.” To make the leap between status quo and your big vision, you have to build up momentum by making (and communicating) a solid roadmap, ideally with a few easy steps at the beginning of the roadmap to coax people to “let go” of the present. That will win you followers, giving them the courage to believe in your plan and to see what you are aiming for.

Lead the way

Helping people feel confident that following you on the journey towards health and safety will be worth it can make all the difference in taking your organization from “present” to “possible.” By watching for and nurturing your first followers and being brave enough to make the leap, you can make real change in your organization—change that not only impacts the health and wellbeing of your colleagues and the environment, but can also put your company on the path to “total victory.”

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