"Brother, who did that to your head?"

That was a question I was asked back in the early 1990's when I was working at a FQHC on contract locally. I was in a position at the time where I worked multiple projects. On this particular day I was working directly with patients, and it wasn't such a bad gig. You never knew who or what you were going to encounter, and I hadn't expected this question.

used to short haircuts now

I should have though. As my income had dwindled a bit I had decided that I could probably cut my own hair. After all, how hard could it be? Clippers were selling all over the place and they didn't cost all that much. Commercials on TV showed people able to cut their hair, so why couldn't I do it?

It seems there are major differences in cutting not only black people's hair, but my particular type hair, which is actually very curly when it grows out; it gets more difficult to deal with as I get older. Curly hair doesn't grow in even; that's not what curls do. Unless you're a professional barber or stylist who knows what you're looking at in a mirror, it seems cutting one's own hair is the wrong thing to do. No matter how passable I thought it looked, it turns out it wasn't.

It took a stranger to tell me this. When I mentioned it to a few people I was working with as the day went on, all women, each of them said they'd wondered why my hair looked so bad lately. I didn't own up to anyone then that I was cutting my own hair. I asked why they hadn't said anything and they said they figured I liked it like that and left it alone.

We're in a society now where almost anything goes. Because of that, people are reluctant to tell anyone when they think something is amiss.

I remember being out for lunch years ago with my ex and seeing this woman wearing a beautiful black dress with a white sticker tag right on her behind. I wanted to say something, but she said if I did I'd be asked why I was looking at her behind. You couldn't miss it, but I figured this woman had many people look at it during the day and none of them had said anything, and I wanted to bring it to her attention. My ex was adamant, so I stayed silent.

However, when I worked every day with all women, I'd tell them when something was amiss. In my eyes, how they looked was a reflection on me as a manager. I didn't comment on whether their skirts were too short or their clothes too tight or anything like that; I'd actually trained myself not to notice things like that. But if there was something throwing things off, enough so that it caught my attention, I mentioned it. They in turn helped me keep my tie straight and my collar down often enough; nice trade off.

People often assume that others know what they're doing, and thus they don't check up on them. When you're a leader, you really can't afford not to check up on people, even those you've trained well. If you haven't trained them, then it's on you.

It reminds me of this show on the Food Network called Restaurant Stakeout. Cameras were set up all over a restaurant and the owner, along with the host of the show, watched to see how staff behaved over a 3-day period while the owner is supposedly gone. On every show there would be someone who hadn't been trained properly and didn't know what to do, and the show's host would say it's the owner's fault for not making sure every person was trained well before being allowed to meet the public.

The owners always said they left it up to others to do the training, but the host stated, truthfully, that it's their responsibility, because if things fail it all falls back on them. The same thing used to happen on another show called Undercover Boss, only in this case the "boss" was a high ranking administrator of a national organization seeing what was going on in some affiliate stores... and was often shocked by how badly they were run.

A big problem with many leaders is that they really don't want to know what's going on within their organizations. Ignorance is bliss until something big happens that forces their attention to it. It can be impossible to know everything that's problematic, but the more leaders communicate with both employees and consumers of their services or products, the fewer problems there will be and the better things will occur.

If you're a leader who knows what you're doing, you're never scared to find something that needs to be addressed. Nothing is perfect forever, but you can't fix what you won't acknowledge.

What assumptions of competency have you been making with your staff, other employees, management and yourself that, as you think about it now, you realize you need to revisit? For that matter what things have you assumed you know that maybe you've fallen behind on? Are you ready for the challenge; do you know what you're doing?