“Get your hands off your hips,” he said, “you’ll slow the other men down and demotivate them.” Dredd, a former US Army infantry and Special Forces Officer, has probably shared this leadership lesson with hundreds if not thousands of men. But it was the first time I learned it, at least in this way.
I was in Charlotte for a conference and I had the opportunity to hit a new AO before the first session. I grabbed another guy who I thought would enjoy a good workout and we jogged a couple miles from our hotel to the shovel flag. I was taken aback when Dredd himself pulled up and because he is one of the visionaries behind F3, I later joked that it was like stumbling across Animal Chin.
The workout was rigorous: an unrelenting run from parking lot to parking lot full of burpees, pushups, and sit ups. But the leadership lesson I took away has helped shape how I lead and that is what I’m really sharing with you.
Dredd’s instruction goes well beyond a workout; there is a scientific reason why it is important for leaders to keep their hands off their hips, both literally and metaphorically. If you’ve studied psychology much, you have likely come across some research on social proof. If you are not familiar, social proof is the phenomenon where we assume the behaviors of others around us in an attempt to reflect appropriate social action. In other words, we look for clues in others for how to react to a given situation. When we see others laugh, we are inclined to laugh and when we see others cry, we are inclined to cry.
I see social proofing all the time in the hospital. If a trauma rolls into the Emergency Department and the first Team Members to encounter the patient are calm and compassionate, each subsequent responder behaves in a like manner. The same holds true if the first responders seem anxious or aloof and distracted. Teams succeed and fail together largely due to social proof.
I was not in command that day, but make no mistake: I was still leading. Just before I was instructed to remove my hands from my hips, I had carried another man who outweighs me by a good 80lbs up a flight of stairs. The guy I brought that morning had seen this and it convinced him that he could make it up with his partner as well. Dredd knew that my friend was watching me. If I eased off, my friend would have too. This is the magic of teams and any good commander knows that it’s not about saying, but about doing.
Whether you and even others know it or not, they are watching you. Those in your circle of influence will have compassion if you have compassion. If you gripe and complain about things in your life, they will gripe and complain. If you do things the right way without cutting corners, others around you will too. It doesn’t matter if it’s your partner, your children, your boss, or your team, if you want them to go just a little further, it might serve you well to get your hands off your hips.