Are The Birds Singing?

During a conversation with Tracy Brower, author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work (among others), she mentioned that her grandmother used to remind them that when the birds stopped singing there was danger coming. She then observed that in our communities there are similar warnings.

It’s not that I didn’t believe her, but I did look it up, and it is true! As a storm is approaching, birds will stop singing. Birds sing to attract mates and protect their territory. They don’t like to fly in rainy or inclement weather, so when they sense an approaching storm, they stop singing. Animals that are prey also fall silent when there is a predator near. Nature is a noisy place. When it gets quiet, there is a good reason.

As a leader, you can listen for the “singing of the birds” in your community as a litmus test of the health of your leadership and your people. What does it look like for the birds to be singing in a healthy organization? Patrick Lencioni gives us some clues in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. By understanding the ways in which teams tend toward dysfunction, we can learn to recognize the signs of a healthy community.

Trust is the first sign of a healthy team. We should be listening for people being willing to bring up issues or problems. It is especially difficult to appear weak or vulnerable. When people are willing to admit mistakes and ask for help, it demonstrates they trust the people they work with.

Healthy conflict cannot occur when people don’t trust each other. We should be listening for candid conversations and people asking difficult questions without anyone else getting defensive or blame shifting. Conflict is necessary for the best ideas and options to be developed, however, that conflict must be supportive and generative, not demoralizing and unconstructive.

Commitment is a strong indicator of people feeling like they have been heard. One of the most visible examples of this is the recent trend toward quiet quitting. People cannot commit themselves to the inevitable difficulties and struggles of achieving something great if they aren’t convinced they are valued and appreciated.

Accountability follows commitment. When people start to blame others or external circumstances for issues (including ones they obviously caused), it indicates they have lost any sense of being invested in the community and its goals. A simple, “That’s on me,” or “I should have caught that, I’m sorry” is music to any leader’s ears. This one is critical for the leader to lead by example!

Attention to the collective success occurs as a result of the other four. It quite literally gets “quiet” when team members start pursuing their individual goals and personal status. If you believe no one cares about you, your natural response is to look out for yourself. If we are building healthy communities, everyone should be looking out for each other and working toward the common goal.

The song of a healthy community is heard in vulnerability, honesty, and willingness to engage. Unlike the birds, unhealthy communities aren’t quiet in the face of danger, but the song changes from one of hope to one of despair and disengagement. Great leaders can hear the shift in the song long before the danger overtakes their people. Keeping our people healthy and “singing” as a community is the Bison Way.