Two weeks ago I stopped in for a short visit at the unusual Museo de Armas, literally Museum of Weapons, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tucked away in a corner of the Retiro district, this small, quirky, maze-like museum boasts over 2,000 bazookas, grenade launchers, cannons, machine guns, muskets, pistols, lances and swords, each one painstakingly labelled and impressively organized. As I wandered through the displays and dioramas, a single item in the World War II gas mask display caught my attention – a gas mask for a horse! As unusual as that may seem, if you think about it for a moment, it makes complete sense. Horses were used extensively in World War II for transportation of troops, artillery, and materials, and to a lesser extent, in mobile cavalry troops. It wasn’t good enough to just protect the soldiers from the effects of toxic gases; it was necessary to shield their horses as well. The horses formed an integral support structure to active soldiers in the military, so it was just common sense to safeguard them as well.
Common sense you say? It got me thinking about parallels in the workplace. As a leader, you have support structures in your place of work – administrative staff, technology experts, safety personnel, and perhaps most of all, your direct reports. When you’re under enemy attack (or at least it feels that way), are you taking steps to protect your horses? When things get difficult, are you taking care of your support structure? Or are you leaving them to struggle on their own and fight in a noxious atmosphere? As a leader, your foremost responsibility should be to your employees, and that means equipping them with their own gas masks.
So what do you think? What are some of the real-life equivalents to a metaphoric gas mask? The first one that comes to my mind is the importance of supporting decisions made by your staff, even if they’re unpopular ones. What would you add to the list?