Lately, I’ve been noticing some parallels between poor leadership behavior and young kids. Not shocking since I think we’ve all met a childish leader or two. Think about it, poor leaders and small children are willing to dig deeper into a hole instead of ever admitting they’re wrong. Frankly, it’s the worst thing you can do as a leader, friend, spouse, teammate or family member.
Ever notice how kids dig deeper when they’re caught in a lie?
I did brush my teeth.
Yes! At least 10 minutes.
Yeah. And then I flossed. I know you like it when I floss. Can I use my iPad now?
No, because I brushed.
I’m going to check your toothbrush.
I’m going now.
I can’t believe you don’t believe me. (Insert tantrum/crying/stomping here) I did it. I just want my iPad.
This stupid scene plays out in millions of homes daily with parents rolling their eyes. If only the kid in question admitted that they didn’t do it, they could just get it done and then everyone would get what they wanted. Mom and Dad would have a kid with brushed teeth and kid would have their iPad or toy of choice. Instead, it’s the battle of Raging Angry Mommy vs. Can’t Turn Back Now Kid.
Digging into the bad choice.
Bet you can list 10 times it happened at work today. Or… oh, dare I bring it up… the race for the US President.
Childish Leadership and Bad Decisions…
In an organization where I worked, employees were allowed to work from home on a case by case basis. One day, senior leadership decided that working from home was too flexible and too discretionary. As a result, they published a policy.
- Employees can work from home only after two years of employment.
- Employees may not work from home on a Monday or a Friday.
- Employees may not work from home for two consecutive days of the week.
What happened to trust? What would happen to the employees who already had a great remote working arrangement in place?
A number of people, who were working remotely consecutive days a week and on Fridays, decided that instead of freaking out, they’d talk to the leaders. Surely, sharing their track record of success would help the senior team see the rigidity of the new policy, right? Wrong.
They went to the leadership team again to better understand their concerns. Maybe together they could come up with a new policy to address their concerns and enable flexibility.
The employees didn’t want to pull out a threat to get what they wanted, but a few were willing to because it was true. If they policy didn’t change, they’d leave.
A few of the employees found other employment.
More employees resigned because they believed that their success would be compromised when a talented people left as a result of the policy.
The leadership team didn’t see talent… they saw butts. Their concern was butts in seats, and you could always find more chair warmers. Problem was, you couldn’t find people with more talent than those who resigned.
I wish I could say that the business suffered as a direct result of this policy (which it probably did), but business suffered anyway – this was during the Global Financial Crisis. All the more reason why talent was essential.
The leaders were worried about losing face. They put out a policy and if they retracted it, they worried they’d look bad, so they dug in deep.
Let me assure you. They looked bad. This was a standing strong with policy fail.
Let your leadership shine as you backtrack, not as you plow forward.
What’s the Worst Thing You Can Do as a Leader?
Why assume that people will lose respect for you as a leader because you have an open mind, are humble and are learning and evolving your policies and approaches? Come on!
The worst thing you can do is be afraid that you’ll lose everyone’s respect if you back down from an unpopular decision. If that fear keeps you from backtracking, you’ve got a problem that’s bigger than unpopular policies. When you get input, recognize poor decisions and work together to make things better? That’s leadership.
Five Ways Leaders Turn a Bad Call into a Great Move
When someone shares an alternative approach or gaps in your reasoning, it’s not the time to put up your defenses, be grateful. Someone is willing to speak frankly with you – something most leaders get far too rarely. Remain open to what you hear.
The people on your team contribute to the team success as much as you do, albeit in a different way. People are not bodies or butts – they are contributors, thinkers and essential for your success. If you value your people, you care about what they have to say. If they’re up in arms about a policy or a decision, there’s probably a good reason.
You can’t fake caring. You can say all the right words but if the feeling’s missing, people know. Successful leaders care about their people’s happiness and hearts as much as the bottom line. Don’t tell people, “I hear you” if all you really aren’t listening to a word. Care enough to see the possibility of change.
This is where the backtrack is moving forward. What if we changed our approach? What would you propose? How can we work together on an alternative? Share your vision and ask questions as much if not more than throw out ideas. Let your people wow you as you work together on a solution.
[If you think this is the moment where you look weak or stupid, think again. Backing off a bad idea is the best thing you can do for your leadership and organization. Weak leaders dig in; strong leaders reach for a hand to get out.]
Leaders not only create an inspirational culture but also an aspirational one. What is your shared hope? Shared goal? Shared vision? Invite your team to join you in not only envisioning the future but trust that they are in it with you 100%. Aspire together to be great instead of pushing down (policies, ideas, approaches) – uplift.
Not every decision is a good one. That’s the truth for every single one of us. However, the worst decision is thinking your original decision is do-or-die. Come on, there is always another way forward. Dig deep into your humility, take a deep breath, and be the leader you’re meant to be.
What have you learned about your personal leadership as you backtracked instead of plowing forward?