It’s one of my favorite movie scenes ever – the part in Braveheart where William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) gives his famous speech to the Scottish warriors while he’s on horseback. They are vastly outclassed and outmanned by the huge army of England, who rules over Scotland at the time, and the last thing they want to do is fight and be annihilated by their foe. They don’t want to be there. But then the dramatic music starts up, and Wallace rides in on horseback to deliver a short, but inspiring, chest-thumping speech that completely changes the demeanor of the army and pumps them up for the fight of their life. He ends by exclaiming, “…one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!” and they are ready for battle against Longshanks’ mighty army. It’s a great cinematic moment, and it makes me think of famous speeches in history that have been actually recorded prior to major battles, such as King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, Patton’s speech, and many others. These leaders gave their people a simple but inspiring vision that they understood and which motivated them during a really challenging time to give it their all for a greater purpose.
One thing I cannot help but wonder is – what if we had the same type of conviction and emotion when we talked to our people about…safety? What if our toolbox meetings and safety briefings (at least occasionally) actually moved people just a little bit and got them truly motivated to work safely? Too often, safety meetings and updates are a ho-hum, boring exercise that is about as exciting as watching C-SPAN (no offense to those who watch that channel of course). Supervisors, managers, or foremen usually mean well, but a lot of times safety meetings just come across as ‘check the box’ activities where there are few surprises, little energy, and nothing personal about them. And more importantly, many leaders fail to give their people any kind of real “vision” for safety. I don’t mean some big, fancy, articulate concept; I just mean a simple, short message about safety that comes from the heart and that people can summarize in a sentence or two.