Own your stuff.

We all know that making mistakes and having shortcomings are part of being human.  No one can escape these realities.  Yet, these things can help us grow and strengthen – if we are willing to own, acknowledge and work on them.

What does it mean to own your stuff?  It means that you understand that the buck stops with you; that you are responsible and accountable for your behaviors, your decisions and the energy/attitude you project.  It is the ultimate sign of self-awareness, maturity and humility when you step up and take responsibility (publicly and privately) for your stuff.  It’s too easy to point the finger at others, rationalize your actions and otherwise avoid having the conversations that actually matter.

When people move into leadership positions, they often feel that they need to be infallible; that to err or to have shortcomings is somehow not allowed.  It is quite the opposite.  Great leaders openly admit when they have made a mistake, and show how they learned and grew through it.  They show how they pull in others with key strengths to complement theirs and fill gaps where the leader may not be as strong. This modeling of productive behavior builds credibility, and it will inspire others to do the same.  The leader who fears, and ultimately hides or casts blame for their mistakes, undermines trust and sends a message that this kind of behavior is acceptable – or even expected.

Demonstrating humility and accountability for your actions and choices is a powerful way to earn and maintain trust. 

Today, ask yourself, am I really owning my stuff?

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Give honest feedback to others. (Please!)

Okay, we’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: honest feedback is a gift, and a leader’s absolute responsibility. 

None of us is perfect.  We all have things we need to work on.  A leader’s job is to help people continue to grow and maximize their potential, which includes helping them recognize their unique developmental opportunities.  As obvious as this sounds, it is astonishing how many leaders stop short of having these all-important conversations.  Instead, many focus exclusively on the positive (because that’s the easier conversation) and paint an incomplete picture of reality.

Here’s the thing. When we avoid straight-talk about the “other stuff,” the behavior continues and our frustration festers until it gets so maddening (or so counterproductive) that we blow up or it becomes a “performance crisis.”  Meanwhile, the person is completely unaware of the issue and is blindsided by the intensity of the feedback when it finally arrives.  That’s not fair.

In leadership – as in life – we do a disservice to others by not speaking our truth.

When handled well, these honest conversations can be incredibly impactful for a person, opening their eyes to areas where they can be even more effective and giving them something tangible to work on.  These moments can also deepen your relationship as you demonstrate your care and commitment to their continued success.

Today, ask yourself if there is someone you’ve been avoiding giving feedback to, and why.  If you’re intimidated because you aren’t sure how to deliver the message without harming the relationship, seek the advice of a colleague, coach, HR professional or one of the many books and articles available to help, such as Crucial Conversations. 

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Don’t let collaboration cloud accountability.

Collaboration is the name of the game in business today.  We all know that two heads are better than one, and three heads are better than two.  That said, many organizations have taken the idea to an extreme, creating needless chaos and conflict.

In the spirit of collaboration, many bosses hesitate to specify who is in charge of a project.  They assign co- or tri-leaders, or they “empower” a team to self-lead.  As great as this sounds on paper, it usually falls short in reality.  When there is a difference in opinion or an impasse, who makes the call?  If a teammate is not delivering on commitments, who has the ability to take action?  If teammates perceive that they have the same responsibilities and are stepping on one another’s toes, who clears up the confusion?

We see it every day with our clients:  when multiple people are in charge, no one is.  For sure, collaboration is a beautiful thing, and necessary for business success.  But not at the expense of accountability and clarity on roles and responsibilities.  We believe the more effective model is to hold team leaders and project managers accountable for fostering collaboration within their teams --- and collaborating effectively across functional lines --- while maintaining a clear understanding of who is ultimately responsible for the outcome.

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Help others help you!

No leader is successful without the help and support of others.  Your job is to inspire others to invest themselves and go the extra mile for you and the organization.  Just because you are the boss and have positional power over others, it doesn’t mean they will always give it their all.

Here are some tips to help others help you!  

Give clear direction up front, instead of making people second-guess what you want or expect.  This will vastly improve the quality of the end result, and the speed with which it is delivered.

Communicate directly instead of having others channel your messages.  Too much gets lost in translation, and middle-men often wield power and agendas that are not always obvious to you.

Choose your words carefully. You might be exhausted, stressed or annoyed, but beware of expressing your frustration too liberally, especially with people deeper in the organization.  A moment of chiding can have an intensely demotivating impact.

Remember the domino effect. However hard you are working, chances are that those under you are working even harder. If you sneeze, your people catch a cold.  Impact of your actions reverberates.

Keep your “say” aligned with your “do.” Nothing undermines people’s faith like a “say-do gap.”  Before you make a commitment, promise, or express an expectation, ask yourself if you are holding yourself to the same standard. 

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Clarity is key.

In this world of constant change and redefinition, dealing with ambiguity has become a critical capability for leaders and their teams.  Indeed, we need to find ways to forge ahead with confidence, even when the sands are shifting beneath our feet.

That said, too often, leaders use this as an excuse for not communicating clearly or giving clear direction.  Instead of the boss owning responsibility for these things, fingers are often pointed at employees for not being able to perform in ambiguous situations.

Setting clear direction and communicating crisply and clearly, even in murky situations, is an essential responsibility of leadership.  When people aren’t sure of what’s being asked of them, or their accountabilities are fuzzy, it slows them down – or paralyzes them entirely.  They are afraid to make a mistake, go in the wrong direction, or step on others’ toes.  This drives down productivity and morale, and increases costs to the organization.

If you are hesitant to give clear direction to your team because you’re unsure of the broader strategy, take the initiative to clarify it for yourself so you can clearly communicate it to the troops.  If the organization’s strategy is in flux, then break things down into smaller, shorter-term pieces and direct your team to work on those things.  Clarity is key.  The clearer you are, the greater the chances your team will meet or exceed your expectations and feel better about their work.

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