I was booked to facilitate a development and team planning retreat with a group of vice presidents of a large company. The group had a dinner the evening before our session to provide each other with updates and discuss common issues.
The company was going through turbulent and difficult times. Productivity and profitability were down. A recent organizational survey showed employee dissatisfaction and slipping engagement levels. As each VP updated their colleagues he or she pointed to problems with unions, industry regulators, the board of directors, unmotivated employees, supervisor skill shortfalls, and company bureaucracy. Soon the group was in victim mode reinforcing each other in a “blame storming” session.
First on our agenda the next morning was our foundational framework on critical choices we all face in dealing with problems and setbacks. We can either lead, follow, or wallow. After discussing the differences in these three behaviors at senior executive levels, we reviewed a continuum ranging from plus 10 (Leading) to zero (Following) to negative 10 (Wallowing). Each participant provided an anonymous vote rating where this leadership team was on the continuum. The average score was – 6.
This shifted the conversation toward this team taking stronger responsibility and providing leadership. Instead of acting like thermometers reflecting the organization’s increasingly negative environment these executives agreed they must act like thermostats and reset the culture and mindsets of their teams and the organization. That’s leadership.
In his Forbes column, “Taking Responsibility Is The Highest Mark Of Great Leaders“, Jack Zenger cites a study of a past colleague on key differences between managers passed over for promotion. “Accepts full responsibility for the performance of the work unit” most clearly distinguished their more effective peers.
Eleanor Roosevelt, American diplomat, writer, and U.S. First Lady once said, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
Are you and your leadership team leading, following, or wallowing?
Further Reading or Viewing: