One of the greatest benefits of working in leadership development is getting to interact with leaders from different cultural backgrounds, as well as leaders with different experience bases. To work with such a variety of organisations where the culture is different, and yet the challenges are similar, is exciting & fulfilling. And the more I work in this field, the more I see the common challenge for organisations and their leadership group – engaged culture.
Recently I was facilitating a workshop for a group of leaders at a large Australia company and what became evident throughout the conversation was how passionate they were about their ‘genius’ zone. That is, what they were really really good at. These guys are experts in what they do, and they constantly perform at an exceptionally high level. They are great technicians at ‘what’ they do. However, the longer the conversation went, I could detect an underlying theme that all was not well in the business. The language that many of the leaders were using, indicated that they had forgotten one of the fundamental principles of leadership – take responsibility.
I started to hear comments like ‘It’s not my fault’, ‘We’ve been down this road before and nothing has changed’, ‘Why do we always have to make the first move?’, ‘When is senior management going to communicate with us?’. Unfortunately these leaders had developed an externalised focus, where they were blaming theirs and their teams predicament on others, on the business. And with this focus, how do you think their team was faring? Not well.
I allowed the conversation to continue for about 30 minutes as it was clear that they needed to let off steam and get things off their chests. In the process, I was hoping that someone would recognise the pattern and step forward and start taking some ownership. This didn’t happen, so I needed to step in. ‘So when are you going to step up and take responsibility?’ I asked. ‘What do you mean?’ was the response. I then shared with them how easy it was for them to speak about all of the issues and challenges they were experiencing and how for every one of those challenges, it was someone else’s fault. Not one of them stepped forward and even acknowledged that perhaps they had a part to play in the challenges being experienced. ‘So how do you think your team feels right now?’ I asked. ‘Because they are watching every move you make and listening to every word you say’. ‘They feel the way we do’ was one of the responses. ‘Absolutely they do, because you set the example. Your team is a reflection of you’. I then repeated the question ‘When are you going to take responsibility?’ This time, I could see their minds ticking over because the leaders started to realise that they had a part (a big part) to play here.
From that point, the workshop took a turn and we started to explore what responsibility meant, in the context of leadership. Here are some of the points we covered:
- Can you control what happens? – The team started to realise that they were being very reactionary to what was happening and in the process, losing some control. We explored the fact that, as a leader, if we take responsibility for what happens even if we have no control over the event itself, we are in a much better position to deal with it. We can work out how best to respond to the event, rather than be at the mercy of the event, and just react. They understood that ‘it is not what happens to you that is most important, it is how you respond to what happens which is critical’.
- Are you calm or out of control? – What do you notice about a team that has a leader who is out of control, demonstrating the full spectrum of emotions? They tend to mirror that. When a leader is calm, they are better able to process what has happened and then develop and implement a strategy to respond. This can provide their team with not only a sense of clarity, but also a sense of comfort that things will turn out okay and the storm will pass.
- Are you tapping into the team’s IP? – For many leaders, they have this belief that because they are the leader, they must have all the answers. Not so. Great leaders recognise that the IP that sits within their team can solve even the most complex of problems. Tapping into that IP will do 2 things; 1) it will foster an environment of independent thinking in the team, and 2) build engagement because the team start to feel more worthy. Know that as a leader, you do not need to have all of the answers.
- Stop the blame game – This must stop immediately. Blaming others does not build trust and it certainly does not build a cohesive team. This is so important, and for many people, quite difficult to do. When you feel yourself wanting to blame others, stop, and change the conversation. Turn the blame into responsibility and ask how you can move forward in a productive manner.
At the end of the workshop, we had a good conversation about the fact that it was a conversation that needed to be had. Each of the leaders appeared to take the message on board, and committed to changing their approach. Only time will tell as to whether they do. Are you taking 100% responsibility as a leader? I trust that you are. Remember, the leaders who take responsibility for everything that happens, are much better positioned to lead their teams out of the valleys and towards the mountain tops, and in so doing, build strong and engaged cultures.
To your continued leadership success.
About : Darren is an Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant, Trainer, Facilitator, Speaker. A passionate and driven individual specialising in personal development, strategic planning, coaching for advocacy & enhanced performance, situational and servant based leadership, executive coaching of people leaders, emerging leaders and ‘high potential’ individual contributors within the Enterprise & Government market, personal change management, and strategic workshop facilitation & training.