Three Tendencies Leaders Must Resist Are You Guilty?
When I hear bad news within the organization I lead, or about the people I lead, three instinctual tendencies come up rapidly in my mind: Blame others, crush others, and judge quickly. Like a series of punches, these reactions come one right after the other.
Good leaders fight against these mental forces. Let me show you how I battle these thoughts.
I know better. I know at the end of the day, it is my fault when something goes wrong. So why do I still get the immediate thought, Who did it?
Why don’t I naturally think, What did I do to cause this on my team? Or, What haven’t I done to prevent this from happening? Or even, What made me give this person this responsibility even though they were far from being ready? I try to ask myself these questions right away, but they typically occur to me a few hours or days later. My knee-jerk response to bad situations is Who’s responsible for this?
Who did it? quickly turns into I can’t believe they did it! The blame game begins, which leads to knocking people a few notches down in my mind, condemning them. This is not good. Great leadership calls us to respond calmly, to lift people up, even in tough times.
In a situation where someone on my team has failed to provide excellent customer service, my blaming may sound like this in my mind: Julie was so rude to this person. I can’t believe it. She just cost us a valuable patient. How can she continue to do this when I have talked to her about it before? Here is how I try to counteract my instinctive reaction: Oh wow, Julie seems to have dropped the ball with customer service. How did I fail to train or supervise her? What can I do to help us fix this?
As leaders, our self talk about people becomes evident through our behavior. As quick as lightning the thought comes to us, Who did it? As maturing leaders, we must recognize this voice and quiet it. We must be constructive when we address others if we wish to effect positive change.
Within a few seconds of thinking I can’t believe Julie did that, the next thought sounds something like, I am going to teach her a lesson. When you have absolute power and authority as a leader, it feels cathartic sometimes to punish or severely reprimand someone. After all, they just botched the plans for the team. Many times, it is my initial instinct, but I have learned to stop myself.
We know that crushing others is not an ideal solution for a healthy team. More importantly, it is not the right thing to do. Making people feel small is not good, even when they make big mistakes. Letting them know is important, but not ridiculing them for doing it. Great leaders elevate people even as they share with them their mistakes. Strong leaders give us dignity and treat us with honor, even when they are showing us the boundaries and better approaches. We must refrain from even entering into the cycle of blaming and crushing others.
One rule we must apply in leadership is to never use force. Stop it in your thoughts first. Remove it as an option (except in extreme and rare situations). In fact, the higher you go, the less force you should use. We forget what it feels like to be on the receiving end. Approach explosive situations calmly and with a measured response.
As leaders, we must make fast decisions about many things in order to move the ball forward. I have become accustomed to that. However, this good habit can turn bad when responding to people. Assigning final blame and judging people’s motives is dangerous. It is an immature thing for us to do as leaders. He is lying. He is manipulating. She is defying my authority. While decisive leaders are applauded, we must be sure to make informed, calm, and deliberate decisions regarding others when they do something seemingly bad.
I am almost always wrong when I make a quick decision or a fast judgment about a person. Think of a court of law. Usually people want to judge a criminal case before they hear all the evidence. My brother was recently in a jury pool for a case involving the sexual molestation of a minor. He was not selected, but he told me how guilty the guy appeared. It made us both sick. A few weeks later, I met the guy’s defense attorney. I asked him how the case was going. He said, “The defendant was innocent. The grandmother admitted to making the girl say those things. His only problem is he looked a little creepy. He looked guilty, so everyone assumed that he was.”
As leaders, we must be thoughtful when it comes to dealing with issues and with people. Wise leaders don’t rush into condemning people. They honor, value, and give dignity to people—to all people in every situation.
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