While walking along a footpath recently I came across the scene as shown in the photo above. In many respects it is just a typical scene and shows a footpath with a commonly-found barrier that allows cyclists and pedestrians through, while blocking access by cars and motorcycles.
I became fascinated with what I perceived to be another barrier evident in the scene i.e. a barrier found in the minds of the installers. As I thought about the scene I realised that the barrier evident in the photo is absolutely ineffective. There is a large gap to the side of the barrier that allows the barrier to easily be bypassed by cars, motorcycles and any other type of traffic. I suspect that the designers/installers of that barrier followed a recipe i.e. install a standard barrier at the entrance of every concrete footpath. In many instances the entrance to the footpaths are via a small gap, lane or have fences or other boundaries to prevent the barrier from being bypassed. In such cases the barriers would be totally appropriate, however they are ineffective when there is a large space to one or both sides, as shown above.
This led me to wonder how often do we view everyday situations in our lives with barriers in our minds? How often do we follow the same routines without thinking or questioning? As leaders we should be at the forefront of questioning, suspending judgement and challenging norms to ensure we identify blind-spots in our thinking. We should be open to, and encourage, independent advice and comment. We could even pause every once in a while to question whether the things we do makes sense to everyone involved.
There is a place for processes and procedures – these go a long way to preventing errors. However there is a danger when compliance to processes is blind and unthinking – then we can end up with “solutions” like the one depicted in the photo above. The key is to find a balance between the extremes of too-many procedures and no procedures at all, between procedures that are overly restrictive and procedures that are too lax, and between blind compliance and doubting everything. Finding a balance is very challenging, however that is the challenge that we as leaders need to address.