By Vinay Nadig
Nancy was frustrated. She felt she was in meetings all day that never “went anywhere.” Most of the discussions, or chatter, really focused on the unreasonable demands being made by senior management. When she started meetings with agendas for upcoming work, attendees frequently got lost in how the existing politics were just not going to enable them to execute, of how things were just not going to work. She was unable to direct the participants to any kind of productive discussions.
While her company was doing quite well, a lot of her team interactions seemed to be stuck. Her group was viewed as steady, if a bit dull and risk averse. With a change in the senior leadership at her internal client, there were a lot of aggressive demands for more service from her group. She found herself frequently protecting the existing or old ways of doing things, protecting the old systems that ran the business processes, to a point where her new customers were getting frustrated. She sensed this and wanted to figure out how to solve this problem. I worked with Nancy over a year to help her find the right solutions for her situation. We were able to formulate some key strategies that moved her past these obstacles. Nancy went from strength to strength and today is a valued member of senior management at her company. Here, then, are the strategies that proved successful:
“That’s the way it is…”; “She’s just that way – that is a given…”; “You know it’s not going to work, but what can we do?” You know it: the classic shoulder shrug, the feeling of a massive uphill climb, and our default reaction of inertia.
The problem with the shrug is this: you know that it’s going to come back to bite you! It’s always a case of paying your tax up front, or, paying a huge penalty later – especially in today’s climate, where there is such a fear of job longevity and the huge pressure to just go along and stay safe – it is all the more natural for us to stay in our zones of inertia.
Why don’t you “lean into” the issue at hand and push it/tackle it/pay the tax now, instead of waiting for a future disaster? It’s all in the now – for you to own the outcome of your endeavor, you have to practice the daily leadership behavior of “leaning into it and pushing,” rather than the oh-so-much-easier shoulder shrug.
I’m sure we have all been culprits of this – the soothing blanket of whining and moaning, what my Aussie cricket friends call whinging. You know what I’m talking about, right? And it gets even better if you are able to harmonize it with a couple of other team members adding their chorus! Here’s the thing – you can do that to blow off some steam (good), or continue to depress yourself and your team (bad)! Definitely not a daily leadership behavior – not going to get you into that “exceptional” zone we want you to be in.
Here’s what I have found – when you get embroiled in a negative conversation you have to take responsibility to get it around to a positive path as soon as possible. You will see that the other person(s) will react by getting drawn/pulled out of the negative, as if drawn by a magnet. The secret is to seek a ray of potential positive outcome in the situation and pull the group along. This is not even a choice for those of us who wish to practice daily leadership behavior – it is simply the way we have to lead and move ourselves to exceptional performance.
We have beefs about our work/our team/our bosses/our pay. Okay, I get it. And I am sure that most of us are taking some active steps to address one or more of these issues. But here’s the thing – how many of us are able to check this stuff at the door when we focus on the outcomes that are expected of us? “Above my pay grade” or “We need more leadership around here” could be statements that maybe ought to be reflected back to us. How do we balance these emotional responses with our resolve to practice leadership behavior daily?
Here’s the daily leadership behavior action plan for one day. Check this stuff at the door when you enter your workplace – just put it in coat check, get a ticket – so you can claim it back on the way out. And think about your favorite volunteer organization that you are fired up about. Go through your meetings/interactions/tasks with the same passion. I assure you – you will have an exceptional day. And, you will forget to claim that stuff you checked in… Will this behavior address your underlying issues with your workplace? My answer is that combating them with exceptional performance is, by far, the best option available to you – either to surmount them or to launch into your next phase.
P.S. – look, if you believe that you are in the wrong place/wrong time/wrong set of people – are you taking steps to untether yourself? If not, then the next strategy addresses that – but if you believe that you are in the right place, but still get bogged down from being an exceptional performer – then, there is no excuse but to follow this daily leadership behavior.
It is very reasonable to expect that one stands on one’s accomplishments. To feel credible and respected because of your existing work portfolio is indeed something we all aspire to. But today’s business landscape demands quickness and flexibility. When our bosses/stakeholders/ customers entrust us with that “next” big responsibility, they are looking at the outcome you achieved and how you achieved it – not necessarily the system or the process or the transaction you now own.
My work with leaders and superstar employees sometimes finds me with people who just won’t let go – of the system they built/of the process they designed/etc. – even if that next responsibility/goal dictates a change in direction/strategy. It is that safety blanket that tethers us to the past, when what we really need is to launch into the future.
So, a key action that we need to take as daily leaders is to leverage the results and the “hows” of past successes, not to circle the wagons and hang on to that safety blanket.
We are all shaped by our pasts, one way or the other – however, there is a tremendous price we pay when we are bound by our pasts… Use your platform of past successes to fly free, not be tethered.
About the Author:
Vinay Nadig is the author of Leadership IS for Everyone: 20 Leadership Secrets for Exceptional Outcomes and Fulfillment at Work. He has had a 20+ year career as a consultant, entrepreneur and a business unit head in the manufacturing, healthcare, retail, technology and airline sectors sectors, consulting with several large Fortune 500 organizations. For more information, please visit, www.vinay-nadig.com and www.leadershipdharma.com.