I recently lead a leadership program for an international group of technical managers. We met by phone on the same day and at the same time for eight weeks in a row. One of the explicit promises we made to each other was that we would be on time and fully present for every call.
During one particular meeting, a manager showed up 15 minutes late to the call and said, "Sorry I'm late! This call didn't make it on my [electronic] calendar."
Well, that damn calendar -- the nerve. No wonder she couldn't fulfill the promise she made to the team to show up on time. It was the calendar's fault.
This happens all the time. We all provide reasons why -- why the project is late, why the report is incomplete, why the customer took their business elsewhere, why the promise wasn't kept.
It's an insidious habit and huge organizational blind spot. It accomplishes nothing but has the impact of explaining away our responsibility in the matter.
Wouldn't it have been a more powerful leadership move for her to simply say, "I apologize for being late and not keeping my promise to you?" Imagine hearing that from your boss, or colleague, or spouse, or kid. No reasons. No stories. Just 100 percent ownership for a missed commitment.
"I apologize for being late and not keeping my promise to you." Ah, the rare yet efficacious sound of someone taking responsibility.
When was the last time you heard a politician or company leader say, "I apologize; I didn't keep the promise I made to you." Instead, they (and we) offer a litany of reasons why the result didn't happen and it always involves how other people or circumstances got in the way.
Unfortunately, we human beings find it normal to blame someone or something else. It's become a social epidemic. We're a blame society. We're a "dog ate my homework" culture. We are quick to offer up reasons why we didn't keep our commitments. We believe that if the reason is compelling or believable enough it will lessen or negate the impact of missing the promise, and it will let us off the hook. What's even worse is that, over time, we start believing that the reason is actually true which then limits what actions we can take to fix the problem.
During a lwomen's leadership program I facilitated last month, I asked the participants to share an example of how they felt stuck on their leadership path. One woman stood up and said that she while she loved her work and her team, her boss's communication style - intrusive, micromanaging, inconsistent - was making it extremely difficult for her and her team to finish their big deliverable.
No, she couldn't have a conversation with him because of the potential repercussions to her career. No, she couldn't consider ways to open a conversation with him about the effect it was having on her team's morale and productivity. She had seen what had happened to her predecessor who had confronted him, and the risks were just too great. In short, her team's missed deliverables, her team's suffering, her stuck-ness weren't her fault.
What she couldn't see, until the group pointed it out, was that her reasons (not her boss) were keeping her stuck. Her reasons were robbing her of her power to produce her desired outcomes. Her reasons were keeping her from generating a different future, which is what leaders are supposed to do!
Yes, it takes a certain vigilance to stop the excuses, to operate without reasons or why's. It requires awareness. It requires taking risks. It requires lots of courage. But that is, precisely, what is missing in leadership, today.
Just imagine what might be possible for you if you dropped the reasons - if you became a lot more un-reasonable. What might be possible for you, your family or team if you encouraged 100% responsibility and 0% blame? Imagine how it might positively and radically impact our companies, organizations, and nations if we all got a lot more un-reasonable.
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