Red flag mechanisms… got yours?

Posted September 28, 2010 in Latest News & Insights

Rocco Rossi Bocce BallsHere in Toronto, our local mayoral race is turning into an interesting little drama, with the front-runner being a guy with an “interesting” background (read, controversial).  The remaining candidates are resorting to high school bullying tactics and one candidate has even launched an eyebrow-raising Soprano’s-esque ad campaign.  Rocco Rossi’s “Bocce Balls” campaign has had tongues wagging for the past week, and left me thinking… where were his red flag mechanisms?

In Jim Collins’ must-read book “Good to Great”, Collin’s coined the phrase “red flag mechanism”.  The red flag is a structure that helps leaders avoid serious missteps by empowering people on their teams to raise issues, problems, challenges, etc. immediately.

All leaders need people who we can trust to wave the red flag when we’re crossing into dangerous territory.   Formal red flag mechanisms help to break down the silence that can happen when power/hierarchy structures are in place.  Here are some ways to create red flag mechanisms:

  1. Ask for the flag… At the end of critical discussions ask people for the “gut” reaction to the decision made.  Permission to put out concerns through feelings can take the edge off for people hesitant to disagree with the “boss”.
  2. Hand out flags… Take a page out of Anita Roddick’s book.  The Body Shop founder would give all employees 10 red envelopes and if they had a concern, they could write a letter and hand the red envelope to a member of the Board. The Board would address items at the top of their meetings.
  3. Hire diverse thinkers… one sure way to get different viewpoints is to hire people who aren’t made from your mould.
  4. Create an external advisory board… pull together a group of external advisors who will give you the straight goods on your ideas.
  5. Listen to your own intuition… I’m no psychic Zelda, but I can tell you that 90% of the time that I’ve made a lousy decision, I’ve felt it was wrong even as I was making it.  Which leads to the final thought…
  6. Check your own ego… it’s easy to say that you want people to stand up to you when they see you making a lousy decision, it’s another thing altogether to have the “Bocce balls” to take their advice and let go of any need you have to be right.

Happy leading!


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