Why Don't They Listen to Me? Why Indeed

Let me start off with an observation. You are the fire chief in a small, suburban community. Your fire department has been in business for well over 125 years. The department is a fixture in your area and is well-thought-of by pretty much one and all...


Let me start off with an observation. You are the fire chief in a small, suburban community. Your fire department has been in business for well over 125 years. The department is a fixture in your area and is well-thought-of by pretty much one and all in town. You have been a member for a long time now and thought you were comfortable with your role as the chief.

However, things have been happening lately which are causing you to feel a bit uneasy about the future of your group. It is coming to the point where people are questioning just about every order you give, or each request that you make. The normally active people who have been the backbone of your department for a great many years are not turning out any more. They are skipping the alarm malfunctions, trash fires, and false alarms. It is getting real lonely in the middle of the night with just a basic crew of four or five people turning out.

A great many of these folks have been buddies for a great many years; many going back to high school and childhood friendships. Where once you remembered experiencing a great sense of teamwork you now see a group of people whose seem to be acting out as an array of selfish individuals.

Guess what my friend? There is a real good reason for what you are seeing. These people are individuals and they are simply returning to the roots of the elementary human behavior. You are suffering through one of the great problems that every person in a leader ship position will face at one time or another. People are unique creatures and you must take this fact into account every time you come together with the members of your team.

You cannot lead your people in the same manner as that proposed by early management and leadership studies. Back in the day, people were considered to be nothing more than a resource, much like water, steel, wood or money. They were thought to be expendable 'things', rather than individual human beings with feelings and emotions. Today we (hopefully) look at things differently.

This change did not come overnight. It came over time as a result of a wide variety of studies which were completed by colleges and universities around the world. Let me also stress that these research projects were stimulated by members of our nation's industrial world. Many of these studies started out as projects to identify how companies might be able to get more labor out of each individual worker. There were very few lofty ideas and ideals back in those days.

These changes came about at least in part as a result of the human relations movement within the management research field. This movement began as a seemingly accidental offshoot of an existing time and motion study. The original premise for this study involved the alteration of environmental variables within an industrial setting. The study was conducted at the Hawthorne facility of the Western Electric Company in Illinois from 1927 until 1932.

Elton Mayo and a group of fellow Harvard researchers were working to assess the impact of various lighting levels in that factory. When light was added to their working environment, people worked harder. This seemed to make sense to the researchers. To qualify this, they took away light to see what would happen. Wonder of wonders, rather than drop back to a lower level of productivity, these people began to work even harder.

Being good researchers, they worked many different iterations of the working environment. After experimenting with a number of environmental factors, the researchers came to believe that it was the attention being paid to them which motivated the workers, not the factors themselves. One of the interesting elements of the whole study process is that the workers' productivity seemed to improve when changes were made and slumped when the study was concluded.

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