We all have a dirty pair of pants

One thing that strikes me about the current election campaign is that Brexit has been kicked under the bed like a dirty pair of pants. Their existence won’t change because of the lack of visibility and at some point they’re going to have to get hoiked out and dealt with by some unfortunate soul.

The tough, the difficult to manage, the hard to explain and the unpalatable so often get moved out of sight. We push them away in our organisations, in our teams and in our lives because, quite frankly, they’re tough. Why would we address things that by their nature are divisive and difficult, when instead we can focus on the things that have higher levels of agreement and approval (in the case of the current campaigning, who can spend more on public services).

Good organisations, good teams find a way of addressing these topics. They find a way to bring people together to discuss the things that risk causing division and help to find a way forward. Good leaders never lose sight of the topics, but know that the timing and right approach are key. They are brave in addressing the hardest topics, but achieve it through creating an environment of safety.

Recalculating the data never really makes the problem go away, presenting shiny new opportunities cannot erase the underlying issues. They may provide brief respite, but they’re not a cure. The only way out is through and that means a slow and sometimes difficult exploration of the hardest and most sensitive topics. Nothing goes away when you close your eyes.

Whether it is a long standing performance issue in a team, a slow but unavoidable decline in revenue or membership numbers, a loss of market share or even an organisational culture or behaviour that is causing damage. None of these issues go away by ignoring or avoiding them, they linger in the darkness, their existence remaining entirely whole.

We all have a dirty pair of pants, the measure of our success is whether we’re willing to address that.

 

Actions and consequences

Are we always responsible for the consequences of our actions? It seems that’s the accepted wisdom, but I’m really not so sure. On one hand, it makes for a remarkably neat way of judging others, but it also feels like a convenient “get out of jail card” for absolving others of acting in an appropriate way.

Our social and political landscape is full of judgments on decisions that were made and the unintended consequences;

He should have known…

She should have seen that coming…

And similarly, our organisational rhetoric often places so much onus on individual actions and the subsequent consequences. Particularly the more senior that an individual gets.

I have no doubt that our actions define us, how we choose to be, how we present and behave, how we interact with others. Unless you believe in a higher force, we are all responsible for our actions. But in accepting this, do we throw ourselves open to however the universe responds as entirely fair?

If you choose to go out at night, are you responsible for being mugged?

Or wearing the wrong clothes, accepting of being harassed?

I don’t think anyone would suggest that the individual has to accept these consequences. Yet in the political, social and commercial aspects of life we hold a different burden of proof.

Being able to differentiate responsibility for the choices which we control and the consequences we do not allows us to analyse and interrogate responsibility in a much more balanced way, but it also helps us place responsibility where it really lies.

None of us want to be held to account for events truly out of our control. But whether we set the same bar for others…well that’s a different question.

 

 

 

You’re not here to make friends

The role of leader is not to seek to be popular, it is to serve in the best interest of stakeholders.  At different stages of your career, those stakeholders will change and evolve, but broadly that means your employees, customers, employers and society. It goes without saying that at times the interests of these different groups will present a tension. But frankly, that’s your job.

When I say this, the immediate reaction is to infer that I believe that the job of leaders is to be unpopular, that in some way I’m suggesting a nasty, brutal model of leadership. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Simply in order to lead well, you need to be prepared for people to not like you or your decisions. If you’re not, you will always shy away from a percentage of choices that could be helpful.

Backing yourself to make unpopular decisions and to lead through them to the other side is the very essence of leadership. In the most simple form, that’s why soldiers climbed out of the trenches, it is why explorers travelled the world, it is why star players are dropped before finals. The ability to make clear, decisive and difficult decisions.

The success of a leader isn’t how many people like them, it is how well they’re respected. I was reminiscing the other evening about a leader that I’d sadly had to remove from an organisation in the past. He was deeply liked and hugely popular, but from an impartial perspective massively ineffective. When he left the organisation there was a lot of emotion. A couple of years later team members voluntarily told me how angry they had been and how wrong they thought the decision was, but how much better things were now that he had gone.

Being a leader means sometimes we have to be unpopular, it means speaking out when it is inconvenient and acting when inaction would be easier. We must never conflate personal popularity with effectiveness or respect, we must be prepared to cause upset, not for the sake of it, but for the greater good.

We’re not here to make friends, we’re here to do the right thing.

You’ve got to have a plan

Many years ago I was sat talking to a cardiologist who asked me what my plan was. When I asked what she meant she replied, “Do you want to drop dead one day on the commute because you don’t know what else to do? You’ve got to have a plan.” It became one of those conversations that change your life.

Over a decade later I’ve always worked to a clear plan, I know where I am and where I want to go, but I understand that the path that I need to take might change and fluctuate as I progress. Of course not every detail can or will be known, but the broad sense of direction is clear.

In moments of temporary unhappiness (I’m generally an upbeat guy) I’ve been surprised at how often it is caused by losing sight of the overall journey. Becoming too focused on the here and now and losing sight of the why.

So my question to you is the same as the question that was asked of me those years ago, “what’s your plan and if you don’t have one, what’s stopping you?”.