One of the great dangers of leadership is the belief that the leader either IS or MUST always be right. It’s just not true. You are not always right; you are just the leader. You are rarely the best educated, smartest, most amazing person in the room. In fact, your role as THE leader is to ensure the magnificence of others, shines through, not just your own.
Nevertheless, you are still the leader. When occasions arise that call for you to be the one who goes first, means you risk getting it oh so right, (and possibly oh so wrong.) Remember, your goal as a leader is not always to be right, just always real.
The truth is leaders get it wrong. In fact, any people group can get it wrong. Our goal as leaders is to know what to do when it goes wrong. Having a game plan for when it goes wrong is as important as having a game plan to help it go right.
What This Isn’t About.
- When there are grounds for dismissal based on financial, moral or legal misconduct.
- If a loss of confidence in the leader has occurred.
- Whether there are irreconcilable circumstances or differences in place.
These matters must be handled differently based on the circumstances, and the way your organisation handles these matters.
What this is, is when in the run of life and leadership, you get it wrong. Because you do and you will. What do you do then…
Remember The Big Picture Of Relationships:
- Meet face to face.
- Meet privately.
- Include in communication, only those people who can add value to the solution. To everyone else, it’s just gossip.
Avoid These Three Pitfalls:
- Being a keyboard warrior.
- Projecting on social media.
- Triangulating by including others who like you, but don’t know enough about the circumstances to resolve it.
Lead With An Apology.
It’s much better to listen and hear than defend and argue. The key goal here is to RESOLVE. Not win, not be proven right, not have your name cleared. But to resolve. Ancient script describes unresolved relational tension as a “root of bitterness”. Imagine that, something toxic takes hold in the heart of a person, the culture of a team and the atmosphere of an organisation. If it were a garden, we would address it swiftly and immediately. If it were our car, we would introduce the mechanics straight away. If it were our child facing imminent danger we would put everything on the line to keep them safe.
And yet, when it comes to relationships we tolerate unresolved issues that take hold in our minds, our hearts and our words. They grow and flourish even to the point of ending perfectly good relationships facing eminently resolvable problems. And, maybe you as the leader, caused this to happen.
So, as we say in our team “put on your big boys (or girls) pants” and lead with an apology. Say “I’m sorry for whatever I have done that has created this tension, please forgive me.”
- An apology demonstrates personal responsibility.
- An apology communicates a willingness to resolve.
- An apology can reduce the tension that exists at the beginning of these conversations.
- An apology hands the other person the opportunity to resolve as well.
- An apology shows both humility and courage to fight for the heart.
So, say sorry. It really, really helps. Really!
Name The Issue.
This provides clarity and common ground. Once you have led out and apologised, you can identify what specifically was or is the problem. Doing this builds on the previous point. An apology takes the tension out of the conversation, naming the issue creates a reconnection with the person you are talking to.
It looks something like this. “As I see it the issue we are faced with is __________. Is that how you see it?” Or, “From where I stand it seems to me we are trying to solve __________, how do you see it?”
The key is getting to where you BOTH say yes! When you agree, you correctly named the issue.
As the leader in the circumstance, if it is something you have done it’s even more important to name it and include yourself in that process. You might say “As I understand it we are meeting because I said/did/didn’t say/didn’t do __________ and that has created this problem. Is that how you see it?”
Another key is to chunk down to make sure everything that needs to be named has been. Ask it this way. “Is there anything else that is an issue, that we need to make sure we cover off on? Anything else? Anything else?” Once you have named the issues and chunked them down, you can rest comfortably that you’ve covered off on all the critical issues. Be sure to be clear and confident of that, in this conversation.
The next best question you must ask is “Where did this go off track” and listen intently to the answer. As above, chunk it down so you exhaust the possible areas where this went poorly. Again, if you are the problem (real or perceived) allow the chunking down process to get crystal clear clarity on the issue. Sometimes just allowing people to share what most bothered them is enough to help resolve it (not always, but often).
The last question in this part of the conversation you need to ask is “What can we do to make this better in the future?” This question shifts your focus to getting on to what Bill Hybels calls the ‘solution side’ of the problem.
In summary this section helps you:
- Name the issue.
- Work out where it went wrong; and
- Focus on solutions.
Declare Your Best Intention For The Future.
Be courageous about how you would prefer things to be in the future, for the relationship, and the things you were doing together. The more leadership that gets done here means more opportunity for a connection about a preferred future. You get to agree on what could be in the next 30-90 days, and you get to commit to something that would help that become a reality.
Making a commitment to change is a sign of humility, a gesture of good faith and an investment in the relationship. When you find that common ground, you can both work together on it. That can help shape the engagement you both share. The other thing this will serve is the opportunity to rebuild trust.
Collaborate On Lessons Learned.
Much of this has been covered in the second point about naming the issue. The key role of the leader is to listen, and listen well. In doing so, you will pick up key points to doing things better as the conversation goes on. This is important because you get the opportunity to communicate to the person what you heard, and what needs to be done differently.
When you can provide feedback to the person that you have heard, really heard, their concerns and message are elevated and edifies their message.
Bring this part of the conversation to a conclusion by saying, “So the lessons I’m hearing that need to be learned here are __________ “. List them, even if they are all about you, your leadership, your character whatever! That’s not the point, the point is you work with the person within the conversation to demonstrate that you’ve heard them, and you are clear on what changes need to take place. The impact on the conversation is as powerful as leading with an apology and naming the issue. What, it works.
Finish The Conversation With Open Hands And Open Hearts.
This part sets up the next stage of the relationship. This might have been a tough exchange, but setting up the next time you see this person is almost more important. In our team, we call it the “walk across the road” rule. You want to be able to conclude any meeting so that the next time you meet, neither one of you has to walk across the road!
The best way to do that is by asking this question. “Are we OK with each other?” That gives you both, the opportunity to tell the truth. Of course, the assumption is that by this time you are. That might not always be the case. If there is any hesitation head back to Point Two and go over what the sticking points might be. Alternatively, set up another time to work out the next steps of making things right.
Wherever you land the key goal is to make sure the awkwardness that might have existed before this meeting is gone the next time you meet.
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