The Leadership Tightrope

A confident businessman with briefcase walking ahead on a tightrLeadership is a balancing act, and like even the most experienced tightrope walkers, leaders must always be aware of maintaining their center of gravity between confidence and being convinced.

What exactly do I mean by that?

Confidence is recognizing that one is responding in the best way possible given the information available at the time. Some people just naturally have confidence in their actions. For many others, it develops over time, with experience. Confidence is about trusting one’s instincts, believing that you have the ability to weigh out the options and make a decision that serves your organization well.

Being convinced, on the other hand, means that you are sure you have the answers. That may seem like splitting hairs, but in reality, there is a major distinction between these two characteristics. People who are convinced quit seeking new information. After all, if you have the answers, why waste your time listening to additional input. Confident people, on the other hand, continuously seek out new information. They see it as critical to making the best decision in the moment.

The tricky part is, people who are convinced actually may have had the answer . . . at one point in time, for one specific situation. It worked. They figured it out. They built the model, identified the missing link, accurately predicted the situation. The flaw in this way of thinking is that variables are changing all the time. However, when people are lauded for identifying the right answer one time . . . well . . . when you are recognized for selling hammers, it is easy for every situation to start looking like a nail.

This balancing is a part of what Collins refers to as Level 5 Leadership – someone who displays both fierce resolve and personal humility. Put another way, the increase in ego that comes from being convinced that you have THE answer may blind you to the new information that could yield the best result. So how does one successfully walk the tightrope between confidence and being convinced?

  1. Recognize that most solutions are situational. Sure, there are some universal truths…but unless you are dealing with gravity or chemical reactions, let’s just assume you haven’t stumbled on to one.
  2. Develop a framework for thinking rather than automatic responses. It can be very helpful to run your consideration through a set of values, a vision for the outcome, that helps guide your thinking without dictating specific actions.
  3. Always look for the unique variables that could impact your decision. Consciously looking for differences keeps you from relying on a solution that was ideally suited to an entirely different situation.

Hoping for more specific answers on how to traverse this tightrope? Sorry, that would require me being convinced I have the answers. Rather, I will remain confident you can figure it out…one step at a time.

 

Willing Followers

Business Team Discussion Team Customer Service ConceptAs a leader, do you want your people to follow you because they have to, or because they want to? For those of you who just rolled their eyes as you read that first sentence, let me point out that cultivating willing followers — those who consciously choose to help the organization carry out its strategic goals — is harder, at times exasperating, and definitely takes longer than ruling by fiat. So if that is the case, why go to all the effort? Quite simply, because willing followers produce better outcomes.

What, exactly do I mean by willing followers? I am not talking about yes-people (in my book, such people fall into the “have to category” — as in they “have to” agree with you). I am talking about people who follow because they believe in the goals of the organization and how you as a leader are carrying them out. You can have people who believe in the goals of the organization, but if they think you are doing a lousy job of carrying them out, they won’t be willing followers. I’m not suggesting that every follower has to agree with every decision you make (nice fantasy, but not terribly realistic). I am suggesting that, on the whole, they trust you enough of give you the benefit of the doubt, and will help accomplish the goals you set because they believe you are working toward the organization’s, and in turn their, best interests.

How do you build that kind of trust? In a word, relationships. Without some kind of connection — depending on the size of your staff it may be direct or indirect — your relationship with your people, and thus their willingness to follow, becomes much more tenuous. Yes, I know you are in your position to get things done, not to sing Kumbya, but the simple fact is that you can’t get things done without your people. Talk to them, ask their opinion, listen to their ideas. They might not have the big picture experience that you do, but you also don’t have the “boots on the ground” perspective that they do. Make it okay for them to raise concerns. Learn from them, and then loop back to connect the dots for them. Here’s where we are . . . here’s where we’re going . . . here’s how we plan to get there . . . and here’s why . . . any questions?

Sure, you can command-and-control your way out of situations in the short term, but if you want your team to have your back for the long term — to make you aware of opportunities and/or roadblocks that you didn’t anticipate — it is going to take more than obedient staff. If you are looking for the best possible outcome for your organization, the only way to get there is with a team of willing followers.

Who Has Your Back?

Standing out from the crowd

Do you lead in such a way that your staff will have your back when the chips are down? Not out of a sense of fear of the repercussions if they don’t . . . that’s simply compliance. I’m talking about staff willingly stepping up to do what needs to be done when you are otherwise occupied, with or without being asked, to support you individually and ultimately the organization as a whole. It is a huge weight off a leader’s shoulders to know that when the unexpected happens, their team will handle what needs to be handled, no questions asked. And yet, I regularly see leaders at off-site meetings who spend the majority of the time on the phone dealing with issues at their office, or who never truly relax on vacation because they are tethered to their computer. Heaven forbid if a personal crisis hits and they suddenly can’t keep their finger on what their staff is doing. That’s not leading, that is micromanaging, and it is exhausting for everyone involved.

So how do you lead so your staff will have your back when the chips are down?

Have their back. Do you offer your staff a measure of grace, and step in to provide support when “life gets in the way” for them (even when it’s inconvenient for you)? If you are understanding of the individual challenges your staff face, there is a much greater likelihood that they will return the favor (you know, that whole Golden Rule thing).

Trust them to handle things. Presumably you have people in senior leadership positions because they have proven themselves capable and trustworthy. The best way to show them you trust them is to let them make independent decisions. Will they handle things the way that you would every time? Nope. However, the vast majority of the time the way they handle it will turn out just fine. And if it doesn’t, it provides a learning opportunity for all involved.

Keep them in the loop. Your staff can’t support things they don’t know about. It does not make you more powerful, or more in control, when you are the only one holding all the information . . . it simply makes you more stressed when the unexpected happens. A few minutes regularly invested in communicating with your staff can save you huge amounts of time and energy in the long run.

I’m sure my team has grown weary of hearing me say, “If you get hit by a bus tomorrow . . .” but leaders should be able to be sideswiped by the unexpected and know that their organization will be able to carry on without missing a beat. The three principles above are a good place to start.

Yes, leadership responsibilities can weigh heavy, but they become more manageable when you have built a team that you know will have your back.