Here are a few of the symptoms you may have observed in your careers, many times attributable to, "Big Brass Fever."
- Fear of disappointing leader drives to over production
- Simple tasks become gold plated efforts
- Casual question or comment treated as tasking for briefing or action
- Briefings reviewed at multiple levels
- Yes men-ism isolates leader from reality
The course gives a humorous, but true, example of this leadership challenge that you may find all too familiar at your agency.
The Secretary for the Department of Energy was touring a national laboratory’s grounds when a snake crossed her path. She casually asked: “I wonder if there are poisonous snakes here?” Six weeks later she received a report prepared by the lab’s top biologist entitled “Census of Venomous Snake Population”.
One has to wonder how much valuable time and taxpayer dollars were spent on this outbreak of "Big Brass Fever." How much of this goes on at your agency? Better yet, how much of it are you causing?
The above example happens all too often, and usually very innocently, as many leaders never expect people to take the whimsical remarks they say so literally. Sadly enough, there is also the opposite out there among the leadership ranks. Some leaders feel that personnel should jump at every word they say because they have finally earned their stripes, bars, or stars. To me, this is an indication that they have been promoted beyond their ability to lead and are reduced to using positional authority to get things done. A sad, but true condition of, "Big Brass Fever."
The best protocol is to learn to recognize "Big Brass Fever," from both perspectives of the leadership realm; as leader, and subordinate.
- Talk about it
- Explicitly state “I don’t want action on this – we’re just considering options”
- Be critical of over production and gold plating
- Imagine the unintended consequences of your requests taken to their ill-logical extremes
- Be clear on your expectations and test for active listening
- Remind your people to stay focused on the top priority and not the side issues
- Make a point of asking for bad news and thanking the individual who delivers it
"Remember, the stronger you are as a leader, the greater the threat of Big Brass Fever becomes."
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About the Author: William "Billy" Wilkerson is a Police Sergeant with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and 21 Year veteran with the Florida Air National Guard. He is currently assigned to Sheriff's Office Continuous Improvement Division and also supervises the Staff Inspections Unit. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has been using Lean Six Sigma to streamline many of its processes for the past several years to much success. Billy has also been assisting with the Florida Air National Guard's rollout of their CPI Program (Continuous Process Improvement). Billy can be found on LinkedIn @ http://www.linkedin.com/in/billywilkerson or by email at Billy@Leanleaders.org