The Mossad is Israel’s intelligence service with a reputation for respect, fear, professionalism, boldness, expertise and execution surrounded by myth and mystery.
In his book, “The Secret History of the Mossad,” author Gordon Thomas quoted the operating principles – or the cultural values -- for the agency as laid down by Meir Amit, a legendary Mossad director. I paraphrase:
No one is accepted into this organization who is primarily motivated by money. The overly zealous have no place in this work. It gets in the way of a clear understanding of what the job is all about. It is one that calls for calm, clear, farsighted judgment and a balanced outlook.
People want to join for all kinds of reasons. There is the so-called glamour. Some like the idea of adventure. Some think joining will enhance their status, small people who want to be big. A few want secret power they believe they will get. None of these are acceptable reasons for joining.
And always, always, you must ensure your man in the field knows he has your total support. That you will look out for his family, make sure his kids are happy. At the same time, you must protect him. If his wife starts to wonder if he has another woman, reassure her he does not. If he has, don’t tell her. If she goes off the rails, bring her back on the straight and narrow. Don’t tell her husband. You want nothing to distract him. The job of a good spymaster is to treat his people as family. Make them feel he is always there for them, day, night, no matter what the time. This is how you buy loyalty; make your man do what you want. And in the end what you want is important.
OK, so how does this language of a spymaster relate to workplace safety cultures and leadership?
Certainly, as a safety leader, you are not out to “buy” anyone’s loyalty. (That’s what bogus incentive programs do.)
You’re not going get into anyone’s family affairs, make sure the kids are happy, lie if you must, cover up, and put spouses back on the rails. But a study in the 1970s of award-winning safety programs showed consistently that safety pros asked employees how their families were doing, and showed an interest in the worker beyond the job.
Knowing what motivates your people – what makes them tick -- is insightful. Many jobs call for calm, clear judgment and a balanced outlook. Especially if accidents are to be avoided. As a safety leader, you too want to keep distractions to a minimum – noise, extreme temperatures, animosity within teams, substance abuse, breaking the rules, lots of things.
Weaving a family feeling into work cultures was a hallmark of those 1970s award-winning safety programs. Leadership based on a family model emphasizes relationships, trust and making connections. It’s a way to gain employee engagement.
Leaders must be there for their people, have their backs, instill that confidence and security in them. You show empathy and caring. You never turn it off. Leadership is a 24/7/365 job. That is how you get reciprocation. In the end, what you want your people do is very important, too – work safely to protect themselves, their families from emotional trauma, protect their co-workers and the organization as a whole.