Monday was an interesting day for me: I was severely berated recently during a meeting for suggesting a simple adage I know to be true: leaders don’t blame.
My client, a senior executive in a large multinational corporation, was explaining the dismal performance of his division and the failure to come even close to hitting its quarterly targets.
He began by enlightening me about the many reasons for his division’s poor delivery.
His nine division managers had clearly not conveyed the urgency and importance in meeting their goals and had not driven their teams hard enough to produce the necessary results
The sales force was demotivated, and the sales managers were clearly not doing what was expected of them, particularly by allowing underperformers to continue with the company.
The production group added to the difficulties by being seemingly incapable of meeting delivery dates they had committed to, and which had then been promised to customers.
It was obvious that the folks in procurement were not doing their jobs as part of the production delays were caused by lengthy waits for out of stock parts.
The logistics team couldn’t get their act together and it was not uncommon for finished products to be stored while waiting to be shipped to the distribution centres.
It was clearly apparent to the senior executive that the effects of poor planning, errant performance and lack of accountability had come together to form the perfect storm necessary for his division to miss the mark by a country mile.
And boy, was he ticked off.
He had a meeting scheduled for the next day with his boss, the CEO, and he was going to lay it out for him, with crystal clarity, why he was clearly the victim of the malpractices of others.
At some point he asked me for my opinion, and I gave it to him. I believe, in so doing I instantly shifted from him seeing me as being a valuable resource to a mindless moron.
I began by asking him if there were any factors he had left out in outlining the causes of his divisions failure to meet expectations.
He thought for a moment, shook his head, and said he thought he’d covered it all.
I told him I thought there was one more critical factor he had omitted to tell me about. It was him.
And that’s how I became an idiot.
It has long been my belief that if you are the leader, you are responsible for absolutely everything. If anything goes wrong, you are complicit; it is your role and responsibility to lead every person in your organization, and that everyone brings their “A” game to the workplace each and every day.
Leaders Don’t Blame
Great leaders don’t blame others, they take ownership of everything and do what is necessary to make it right.
I gently suggested to him if his nine division managers had not conveyed the urgency and importance of achieving the goals to their direct reports, then ultimately, he was at fault. That’s because it was his job to coach them, train them and inspire them to do their best work, and constantly challenge themselves for ways to do even better.
I could tell the conversation was not going where my client has anticipated.
If the salesforce was demotivated and the sales managers were not doing their jobs, it was his responsibility to clearly outline nonnegotiable expectations and utilize powerful consequences to ensure the best possible results were realized.
If the production group, procurement folks and logistics team were not meeting expectations then clearly, he had failed to be the type of division leader who inspires all to be all they can, and who, continually conveys a message that anything other than exceptional performance is not optional.
He was obviously not pleased with my remarks. Our meeting ended shortly afterwards with him telling me he saw no point in any further meetings.
The Buck Stops
So, as you can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised and delighted when he called the next morning. He told me he had gone home and shared with his wife how angry he had been at my audacity in even suggesting that he was in any way responsible for those awful results.
I’ve never met his wife, but I became an instant fan when she asked, “What if he’s right?”
He said he was momentarily stunned that his wife would ask that question. But after a few hours of mild contemplation, he began to explore that possibility. He stayed up until well after midnight reflecting on the concerns he had expressed to me while exploring what he might have done differently at each step.
By the time he came into the office the next morning, he had come to realize that accepting responsibility for everything, claiming ownership at every stage and constantly seeking ways of being better are the hallmarks of a great leader. He wanted to become that leader, starting immediately.
He mentioned in his meeting with his boss, he had done two things: accepted complete responsibility, and presented his plan for ensuring his division meets and exceeds their goals for the current quarter.
Taking ownership of and anything that goes wrong and responsibility for all results is what separates great leaders from wannabes. In short, leaders don’t blame.
I know my view is extreme, but I also believe with all my heart it is right.
This is true in our business lives, but also in every aspect of our life.
When life does not meet our expectations and desires it is up to us to own the problem, to discover the solution and implement it to the very best of our ability.
It is not easy in the short term, but in the long term it is the only way to live.
Leading is a privilege. You are entrusted to help develop, shape and grow those who work around you. And if you are doing this correctly, you can’t help but develop, shape and grow yourself at the same time.
Till we read again.