Great leaders respond in adversity

How many times have I seen a product about to launch when someone comes along and says, "What about X?" or "Has that been approved by Y?" The result is a delay, more work, high emotions and often a scapegoat that takes the blame for missed deadlines.

When things go wrong management tends to respond in two ways:
  1. They hide away and hope the monsters won't be there when they peep over the covers.
  2. They stand up in the full light of day and say, "Right, what do we do right now to make it better?"
Depending on the culture of the organisation, those in the first category may believe it's best to work from home, not reply to email, keep your head down. Another response is to start the Machiavellian machinations as the "heads must roll" politics begin. Some managers even start looking for a new job as soon as the project starts to fail. 

All of these actions are based on self-preservation:

  • recrimination - passing the blame to someone
  • denial - allowing other people to find another person to blame
  • evasion - avoiding responsibility for our part in the failure

Now, I'm not saying self-preservation is entirely a bad thing. I don't want to get fired (most of the time at least). What I am saying, is that as a leader self-preservation MUST come second to the team and the product. 

The response to these scenarios is the "acid test" of anyone's leadership skills.

As Franklin D Roosevelt said:

"It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."

A true leader's response should be:

  • responsibility - accepting our part in the mistake and not seeking others to take the blame
  • acceptance - volunteering to take the actions needed to put it right
  • visibility - outwardly stating that you were part of the decisions made
  • clarity - finding the truth behind any mistakes and setting out a path to change it

If you don't care about the product or your other team members then you are simply not yet a leader. Failure is a by-product of progress and we should seize any failure as a revelation of a bit of truth by which we can make better choices.

Also a negative response to failure leads to attitudes that stifle future creativity, invention and experimentation. A culture of resistance to change, heavy management, overt control and lack of appetite for new ideas, will see you bleed good people and fall behind the competition.

So step up, take it on the chin and start solving the problems, not hiding from the fallout.


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