Real Leaders Don't Make Excuses

Published: Sun, 04/02/17

You don't need to be perfect to make
a messy situation better, but you do need to be a leader
Being a leader doesn't mean you don't make mistakes. I wish the leaders
in my colleague, Claire's, life had known this before making a bad situation worse
Don't Get Caught Up in a "Tragedy of Errors" Like This...

Excuses can have dire consequences. One of the best examples I know happened to a colleague while she was on a project team many years ago. For our story today, I’ll call her Claire.

Claire was having a hard time getting what she needed to get her job done. She was on a team implementing a new software program. The contact person with the software company was not cooperative. You could even say he was actively uncooperative.

She went to her project manager. He reflected how odd it was that not only Claire but also three of her teammates voiced the same experience. Peculiar, that. Yet the project manager said he didn’t observe the behavior they described.

She asked that he get a new rep. He said if he wasn’t seeing a problem he couldn’t ruin the rep’s career by raising this up with his employer.

Apparently the project manager was okay with allowing Claire and her teammates to languish in a miserable situation, and make no progress on the project for that matter. His advice was to cut the rep some slack.

Claire talked to her boss about this, many times. He suggested she would get good practice at managing challenging situations. 

Claire went to her boss’s boss, several times. He was a little more empathetic. He told her to let him know when she was at her breaking point. Then he would act. Why would you want to wait until the person was at a breaking point?

In the meantime Claire stayed up nights brainstorming and reading books on what she could do to improve the situation. She lost sleep.

To make a long story short, the situation inadvertently became quite public. HR got involved. The persons who didn’t act looked pretty bad. Claire was so wrung out that she quit.

Real Leaders Don’t Say, “It’s Not My Job.”

I shudder to think about running a root cause failure analysis on this situation. At every turn “leaders” failed Claire with some version of “It’s not my job.” What can we learn?

As I consider this incident, and many others that wound up in my office as an HR manager, I offer these points to check ourselves.

  • Has the person done everything within their power to improve the situation? Do they have the skills? If not, are you coaching them on that? What would “cut him some slack” look like?
  • ​​​​​​​Does the person bringing the issue to you have the authority to change the situation? Who does? Do you? Who should escalate it?
  • Does this person typically have problems like this? An employee may have a reputation for exaggeration or creating drama. That doesn’t mean the situation isn’t real this time. It deserves some level of investigation.
  • Are you listening deeply and with discernment? Are you dialing in how long this has been going on? How is this affecting the person’s health? What is the state of this person’s productivity?
  • What is your part? Are you avoiding conflict? Are you pushing it back to the employee because it’s sticky? Be honest with yourself.​​​​​​​
It IS Your Job — A Real Leader Rises To The Occasion.

A real leader gets the full picture of the situation. A real leader understands the well-being of employees has a direct effect on the success of the work. A real leader takes the challenge even when the situation is ugly. A real leader doesn’t have the luxury of making excuses. A real leader simply and humbly honors their responsibility to attend to those looking to them to lead. 

A version of this post originally ran on the Lead Change Group site on February 8, 2017.​​​​​​​

Image credit: Pixabay stevepb

​​​​​​​My Best,

P.S. Is your leader having making excuses? Have you gotten the development you need to rise to the occasion, no matter what your role? If not, I can help. A next step would be to schedule a complimentary consultation to see if coaching would be useful, and if we would be a fit working together. No strings. Just reply to this email to contact me.
About Mary Schaefer: Speaker, coach, trainer, consultant and Chief Encouragement Officer for everyone interested in their own professional development and advancement. My belief about the key to great performance at work is empowerment. I say: "Your success and the success of those around you depends on you empowering yourself first." Click here to find out more about what this can mean for you.

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