Leadership, Mirrors and Windows

The Program Sponsor, Chief of People and Culture of a program I ran, reminded me the other day my comments during the final PCG meeting.

During the Sponsors closing remarks he congratulating me on my leadership of the team through the delivery of a complex program.

Without hesitation I apologised, however deflected that notably that his thankfulness should be directed to my team. Their efforts and their energies that had delivered the results and deserved the recognition.

“Sir, your stock has lept in my book” he replied as he looked to my team.

Only days earlier, I had re-read the chapter in Jim Collins’ Good to Great on windows and mirrors. Thank goodness!

You may be like me, you read a book, read the great ideas and principals, commit in your diary that you will embrace them and then……. when the opportunity knocks, you forget what to…. how to….. where to start…..

Well on this particular occasion, this one stuck.

Following a window/mirror model can help you build credibility with your direct reports, among your peers, and particularly with those higher up the organisation.

A couple of keys to grabbing hold of the “the window and the mirror” model, and applying it to your leadership strategy:

1) Look out the window and give credit to those responsible for positive outcomes

For many, this is an easy step.

Make sure those around you know that you recognise their contributions, and understand how they relate to the success of the program, project, or task at hand.

Taking 5 seconds to tell someone “good job” or “I appreciate your help” can pay huge dividends in terms of loyalty and buy in, not to mention that you probably will make their day. Be certain to publicly give your team member/s credit, even in situations where they are not present.

If you are in a meeting and receive positive feedback for something, but feel a person or team deserves a significant portion of the credit for the success, say so.

This will bolster the reputation of the team/team member in the eyes of others, and has the added benefit of serving as a reminder that you are the successful leader of a group of high-performing people.

2) Look in the mirror and take ownership of negative outcomes

This one can be a bit more difficult, but is ever more important.

Nothing is more destructive to a team than a lack of trust. One of the many ways a trust deficit can be created or made worse is through externally assigning blame for failure, especially in public situations.

If a leader does this to a member of their team, what reason does the team have to trust their leader in the future?

This does not mean that you shouldn’t hold others accountable for poor performance. It does mean, however, that you need to make one thing perfectly clear: the buck stops with you!

Your team falling short of a goal, missing a deadline, or performing sub-par work all share one common trait – it was your team that failed.

Look in the mirror to identify how you could have been a better leader: review your instructions, communication style, follow up processes, etc.

Is blame and responsibility the same thing?

Does your team bear a level of responsibility for failing to meet an objective? Absolutely!

However as leader, you bear a greater responsibility to ensure that such situations are avoided.

Take ownership of these instances and work with individuals to identify and remedy specific areas of opportunity. If the entire team fell short, address this in a straight-forward manner. If an individual is primarily responsible for a failure, have a direct conversation with them during their next one-on-one meeting.

People need to know if they have failed to meet expectations, but they also need to know that they can trust you to be fair, to communicate openly and to have their interests in mind.

Drive a culture, where your team are clear on your acceptance of your fallibility’ and your consciousness of theirs. This in itself helps overcome feelings of resentment when you speak with them about the circumstances around the failure.

Furthermore, being objective, frank and practical as to the next steps to avoid the repeat in the future (and absolutely avoiding a dialogue that adds emotional stress or publicly attributing blame) goes a long way to actually ensuring that your team have your collective backs in a future moments of potential failure.

3) Understand luck

Everyone experiences luck, but it is your preparation for and reaction to a specific luck event that most significantly shapes the outcome. An excellent chapter in Great By Choice by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen is dedicated to understanding, defining, and studying luck and luck events. I urge you to read the book and in particular the luck chapter.

The ratio of luck events – both good and bad – for the test case companies within the same industry is roughly equivalent.

Are luck events real? Yes.

Can bad luck events make circumstances markedly worse?

Absolutely. However such events are rarely the proximate cause of failure. Dig deeper to see what you as a leader could have done to mitigate the effects of a bad luck event. In doing so, you’ll learn things about yourself, your team, your company and most likely your industry that will help to prepare you for the next luck event.

The concept of the window and the mirror is simple to understand, but can take time and practice to execute effectively. Fortunately, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to hone your skills. Remember to give credit where credit is due, be accountable for negative outcomes, provide timely and appropriate feedback to under-performing team members, and to prepare for and review luck events. Doing so will help you to build trust within your team, build credibility for yourself within your organisation, and move closer to becoming the leader you want to be.

If you would like to know more and discuss how to drive a culture within your business that sets your entire team on a high performance footing, empowering your good business to become a great business, share your details here.

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