Leadership Mints Series Sampler: The Hawthorne Effect

Okay let’s take an imaginary walk in the woods today and let’s plant our imaginary feet under the tree that best represents leadership to you.

Is it the 300 foot high Sequoia?

Is the deep rooted white oak or hickory?

Is it the highly flexible palm tree –some that that can remain rooted in both dry and wet soil ? Some that can survive hurricane force winds even in Colombian Andes where they grow–as high as 200 feet.

Or is the elegant Hawthorn tree ? With its thorns to protect and its consistent berry-like fruits and flowers to nourish some Hawthorns last 400 years. The longer you observe a Hawthorn tree, the more you see it as a ” symbol of love, protection, beauty, balance, duality, fertility, the union of opposites ” researchers say.

The Hawthorn tree’s connection to leadership is two-fold. First the dense foliage of the Hawthorn tree provides a privacy screen  that can be viewed as if  a leader were extending his or her “arms” to comfort and protect others. And second: the Hawthorn tree has an eponymous connection to one of the most famous leadership studies. The Hawthorne Effect.

The spelling between the tree (Hawthorn) and the leadership study (Hawthorne Effect) is different but the message is the same: caring for each other brings out the best in each other.

The leadership study is spelled with an added “e” — reflecting the city of Hawthorne, IL — the home of the Western Electric Company. Hawthorne, IL was the home of nearly 45,000 employees.

The Hawthorne Effect is the “short-term improvement in performance caused by observing workers,” as defined by organizational psychologist researcher Henry A. Landsberger .

 The more you shine a light on your employees the more they will brighten your bottom line. That’s an over simplication of the study in the 1920s.  

Nevertheless, it does yield a fair understanding of the value of the Hawthorne Effect on productivity, profitability and continuous improvement even today almost 100 years after the initial study.

Today the city of the Hawthorne has changed its name. It’s now known as Cicero about 8 miles southwest of Chicago. But the Hawthorne Effect is still in effect.

Leaders today now more than ever understand the more they pay attention needs and concerns of their employees the more and the more they pay attention to what their employees are doing – good, bad and indifferent – the more productive the work environment, the more profitable the company, and the more sustaining the attitude of continuous improvement.

And like the Hawthorn Tree with its rose scented flowers the more refreshing the work environment.

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