My mom served as a County Commissioner for several years, and my dad retired after serving as the president of a university for 28 years.
Needless to say, both had a ton of experiences in dealing with the teams they led during their tenures. Some good, some not so good.
My parents had a tremendous influence on me as a leader.
I remember a lesson I learned from my mom, Sondra Cole, about keeping my mouth shut. She called it a recipe for disaster.
My mother would say say:
“The ingredients and instructions are simple. You only need to include two ingredients, and leave out two ingredients. The ingredients you include are your foot and your mouth. Insert your foot into your mouth, and spin vigorously. And whatever you do, leave out your brain and your ears.”
I must confess, I’ve made this recipe more times than I would like to admit. If we’re going to lead well, sometimes it involves keeping our mouths shut. Yes, your team needs to hear from you. But sometimes maybe you should just keep shout outs like these to yourself?
“It was Bill’s fault.” = I’m blaming you – Most of the time it’s fairly obvious to everyone involved who bears the blame for a failure or a crash. Time spent assigning blame is time taken away from working on repairs, restoration or moving forward.
Instead – Ask the team what they think the problem is or what went wrong, and for suggestions on how to fix it and prevent it from happening again. It’s important that you as the leader keep your team positive, and don’t allow them to start the Blame Game either.
“I don’t care what you think.” = I’m disrespecting you. – Leaders who fail to respect and show respect to their team members don’t deserve it for themselves. Remind yourself that tearing others down is no way to build yourself up.
Instead – Show authentic respect by inviting constructive input from everyone on the team. This doesn’t mean to take everyone’s advice, but do listen and be polite.
“If things don’t change, we may have to lay off/fire some people!” = I’m threatening you – Leadership by intimidation is a coward’s way to lead. What’s more important, is that this kind of leadership casts a spotlight on the insecurity of the leader who uses intimidation to club his team into submission.
Instead – Help your team set some obtainable short term goals, and then partner with them in making those goals a reality. Success breeds success, and you can set your team on that path.
“That has to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” = I’m shaming you – Why would anyone, including you, ever want to work for a team leader that shames instead of encourages, humiliates instead of helps? What’s truly shameful is a leader that focuses on embarrassment and shame as tools of the trade.
Instead – Ask team members for further clarification, or more questions about their perspectives. They might actually have dumb ideas, or maybe it’s the person who’s listening to them that needs to be a little sharper? People like Galileo, Newton and Tesla had their ideas mocked too…who’s laughing now?
“I don’t have time to deal with this.” = I’m undermining your value – The greatest way to show your team they matter to you and your organization is to make time for them. Bill Clinton has been complimented as a person that can make you feel like you’re the only person in the room while you’re talking to him. That’s a skill that successful leaders must continue to develop in our own leadership skill-set.
Instead – Stop looking at your computer screen, your smartphone or anything else while your people are talking to you. You don’t need to scan the room or look for a file. You need to pay attention. Listen. Ask thoughtful questions. Engage.
“No one on our teams likes you.” = I’m isolating you – If you’re a normal human, your response is probably, “Really? Someone would actually lead like that?” It’s disappointing, but yes, there really are people in leadership roles that are that cruel, and that clueless. For them leadership is about control, whether by force or by fear. Intimidation and shame are favorite weapons in their arsenal. Don’t be that guy or gal. Just don’t.
Instead – It might actually be true. Maybe no one does like them. But if you’re the leader, it falls on you to affect positive change in the situation. Maybe this team member does need some tough love or correction. Then give it. Only give it in a way that is fair, fact based and with a measure of grace and a way through it. People backed into a corner usually come out swinging. Find a better way, and lead them there.
“You’ll never believe what I heard about Susan.” = I’m gossiping about you – The pettiest of minds go to the playground to gossip. Seriously, are we in grade school? When you gossip about one team member to another, you not only lose respect in their eyes, but you deserve less respect. Gossip only accomplishes one goal. Division. It separates your team, it divides them into us/them camps. Painting gossip with a thin veneer of concern for the object of gossip doesn’t make it any better. That only makes you a gossip and a phony. Stop it now.
Instead – In the words of that great philosopher Barney Fife, “Nip it…nip it in the bud.” When you have the inclination to pass on gossip, walk away. When someone else starts it in your presence, politely stop them. Yes, there are times as a leader where you need to know or need to share facts. But you know where the line is, and you know when you’re crossing it. Don’t go there.
Avoid a recipe for disaster. Determine which of these shout outs you’re guilty of, and resolve to change your recipe.