I hear leaders complain all the time about their teams: “This person didn’t complete the project on time.” “This person just can’t seem to get it right.”, “The numbers are below expectations yet again.” You notice in those statements, there was a whole lot of “them” and no “I”.
The reality is that you are the leader and you are accountable for delivering those results, even if you’ve delegated the task to someone else. I bet you tell your team all the time not to point fingers and place blame. Are you leading by example, though? Instead of pointing fingers yourself, we can ask questions related to our own accountability: “Did I provide enough support or coaching to this person?”, “Do I clearly explain my expectations and then listen to them regarding challenges they’ll face in meeting them?”, “What can I do as a leader to help bring those numbers up?”, “Are my expectations in line with what our team and organization are currently capable of?” or even “Did I make the right hiring decision?”.
It’s a cliche, but it’s true. When you point a finger at someone, there are four fingers pointing back at you.
Have you ever used any of these phrases: “Don’t play the victim”, “Regardless, this is what we need and what we are doing”, “I don’t care how you do it, just do it.”? If so, you may be undermining your own goals by losing the respect of your team, not to mention just getting on everyone’s nerves.
Steve Jobs is often sited for his notorious Reality Distortion Field, lauded and criticized at the same time. Your ability as a leader to inspire your team to achieve what they never thought possible is the key to break-through success. However, the opposite end of that is stress, frustration, and resentment when your expectations simply aren’t in line with reality. This is especially true if you demand something and then fail to give any support to bring that goal about.
I’ve worked with many leaders in the past who closed their ears to their teams. Of course, the team members sure talked a lot about that person when they weren’t in the room and most of it was not very flattering. As a leader, you need to know what your team is thinking and you want them to know you respect both their ideas and the challenges they face. For that reason, it’s important to always keep an open mind and listen to their thoughts. This way, you can provide targeted support, your team gets what they need to try and meet your demands, and the relationships remain strong.
There is a very large difference between being solution-oriented and only hearing what you want to hear. Many managers make the extremely large mistake of not being open to hear their team’s ideas in the name of “staying positive”. Sure, sales were at twice this number last year, but there are also two new competitors in the field this year and we downsized our call center. It’s important that your goals and expectations are in line with the current realities of your business. Otherwise, all you do is demoralize your team when you refuse to listen to them and expect the same results in vastly different situations.
It’s always important to focus on what you can do and to provide solutions to any challenges, but your goals still need to be tempered by the reality.