Knowing when to step down

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We ALWAYS know when others should step down from positions of leadership, yet when the person in question is us, there are often many conflicting thoughts.

From a personal perspective, I’ve recently had to have the same conversation with myself. This was after a friend pointed out that although I may have been feeling emotionally disengaged; I have to consider the possible damage this would cause to my legacy.

I suddenly felt the need to spend a fair amount of time considering why I am doing the things I do, what values and beliefs they symbolized and whether those beliefs I hold are still true.

In relaying my woes to my coach, she said I should consider the WIIFM (What’s in it for me) factor. In short, I need to figure out whether where I am still served me and how I can add value to myself as well as be of service to others.

Rob Asghar, in his Forbes article on knowing when to go, states that “there is a universal tendency among leaders to hurt their own cause by clinging to power.” He goes on to say – “George Washington’s greatest contribution to a young American nation wasn’t his strategic ability or his wartime fortitude but it was his insistence that, in order for America to be a viable democracy, it needed leaders who were willing to step aside.”

This sounds so poetic, yet somehow balancing this against the fear of a tarnished legacy I can see how it happens that great leaders stay long enough to see themselves become the “bad guys”.

It’s in acting from a negative place that this happens. Negativity is insidious, it permeates all the good we have done and before we know every single thing that we once did right and well becomes tainted.

I want to be remembered for the good things I’ve done. I want them to remember me for the passion and commitment I showed in the direction of the things that mattered to me. I care about people, I am obsessed with being an agent of change and I want to have made an eternal impression in the lives of others. I want to inspire them to make more of themselves than they ever thought was possible.

It was Nelson Mandela who said that “what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

That is my big why, my purpose, my dharma.

Now equipped with this awareness, I am able to conduct a self-analysis on a deeper, more meaningful level the outcome of which will enable me to remain relevant, create a new environment and in going about these things I would be growing both my knowledge base and my networks.

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Communicating skilfully

We cannot afford to not communicate, it’s just not possible!

I have recently found that I need a refresher on communicating skilfully. The reason for this is that when I’ve been under intense pressure, I tended to withdraw instead of confronting matters head–on.

My coach and I recently addressed this challenge, she advised me to ensure that when I get that feeling to withdraw I need take that as a signal to communicate and be open about what is giving me discomfort this then sets the other person free. For example, I arrived at work one day and found one of my colleagues upset that I had given an instruction to my subordinates to execute on a task which has never been within their set roles. This was not true of course; in fact it was a complete misunderstanding.

I had just stepped into my office and she was already on the attack, I could tell she had been stewing on this for a while and had concluded that I was wrong and had to be set straight. Her abrasive manner did not go down well with me and I was very brisk with her which in retrospect didn’t really make things any easier.

My coach had told me to, when I’d calmed down, to go back to my colleague and set the record straight then say that I would appreciate it if she directed my staff to me if they ever came to her with problems or complaints about their work. In addition she said, I should then arrange to go out for coffee and then iron out any other challenges I may have had with this individual in the past. She called this closing the loop (this is my favourite part). Closing the loop is effectively making sure that the air doesn’t remain uncomfortable. It’s the conversation where I would say “when you do …, it makes me feel… “. Then the hardest thing is allowing the other person to do the same. To close if off, you then come up with suggestions on how you can both move forward, this is also known as a win-win situation.

I have always sort of used my boss as my shield against difficult people and especially those whom I couldn’t afford a fall-out with. They, according to me, are influential and whatever they say in the organisation is taken as the truth and it influences how you are perceived by those who don’t know you well. What I didn’t realise is, conflict is inevitable and those who take charge of the situation, not through strong opinions, but by ensuring that the relationship is not a casualty, are the ones who grow and get respect. That for me was so powerful.

Similarly, I have found that the above principle applies when one is a business leader or business owner. When big things such as reputational damage or you find yourself in an unfavourable business climate, it’s so easy to hide away and hope it all goes away. However, this is not the best solution at all.

Leading people is about ensuring that you bring everyone along with you. During adversity is normally the time when you need to communicate the most with those you lead; perhaps you can’t share the facts entirely but say something to make them understand what is happening to them, to the company and what does it mean for them. They invest in the company each day through the work and time they deliver to you, and you should show them value.

It’s in The complete guide to understanding and using Neuro Linguistic Programming by Barbara Gibson that she advises we cannot, not communicate. This is true and even when we aren’t saying anything at all, we have communicated.

In closing, it’s important that this is done in a responsible manner. You need to understand that whoever you communicate with trusts you at some level , so be clear that everyone is aware of your intent and ensure that you are congruent i.e. what you say is aligned with what you do.

The fish rots from the head

Organisations may find themselves at a point where they are dealing with many fall outs, high staff attrition, lost business and a general dis ease in their business.

Very few are keen to admit that the problem might really be with its leadership.

The proverb, “the fish rots from the head” in business suggests that leadership is the root cause of an organisation’s failure and demise. This is true whether that organisation is a country or a company or just a small team.

We need to understand that leadership affects and determines culture through the things it rewards, pays attention to and shapes really how things are done. For example, in the corporate environment, there’s a common phrase that says “nice guys finish last.” This phrase is normally accompanied by a culture of backstabbing, dishonesty and cutting corners. Everyone becomes insecure and endevours to drive sharp bargains.

In his article, Rick Crandall states that the top leader’s job is to create the right internal climate for the organisation. He states that organisational climate embodies the intangible feelings your people have about your organisation. You can’t directly control the attitudes of everyone under you. But if you accept the fact that you are responsible, regardless, then you can focus on creating a desirable organizational climate. 

Crandall ends off with; you need to work with your people in an atmosphere of respect. Your job is to support them in doing their jobs, which ultimately serves customers. You can’t change all the external issues that create stress. But your people will appreciate being heard, respected, and involved, and will respond to your efforts to improve things. 

As a leader, one needs to have a concious awareness of their actions at all times, this is the place that one begins to become impactful.