How blind leaders create problem teams
19 Feb, 2017 at 9:40 am
How often do we feel disappointed in others’ performance or behaviour? As leaders, it’s our responsibility to take action to mend unproductive results and relationships.
With Arbinger I’ve learned to ask myself two questions when I find myself thinking like this.
- “Am I curiously looking for and hearing the other person’s opinion with the intention of understanding?”
- “How am I making this situation worse for them?”
When I led my first team on a project, I had big expectations. Inmy mid my team was the evidence of my success, and I wanted to be a winner. If they would perform to my standards, I would make them winners too. I set for them stringent, but (in my opinion) achievable goals and committed to support them to achieve those goals. I was not asking them to do anything I would not have done myself.
Six months in, disappointment had set in, and not one of them was meeting my expected standard. They were dissatisfied, lacking commitment, and under-performing. I concluded that since I had motivated and incentivized them, I must have inherited a lame team.
Looking back, I can now see that I had not in any way examined how I was contributing to my team’s lack of achievement. Some of them had successfully been doing their jobs for fifteen years; I had done their job for three. I had offered my view of what their success should look like, never asking them how best they could work. I did not consider our customers, I did not consider anyone’s view or needs except mine.
I thought the title “Manager” gave me the knowledge to see all the answers and how the outcomes should look for everyone. By imposing my views on my team, and dishing out consequences when they couldn’t perform to my standards meant I had created my problem team.
But why didn’t I see that then?
A client recently lamented, “I’ve been in a leadership position for 32 years and I could not see that I was asking an employee to be what I thought he should be, not asking him how our objectives could be met. I never saw how I made his job here difficult. I fired him, when I was part of the original problem. Recruiting his replacement will be costly and time-consuming. Why couldn’t I see it?”
Self-deception is not just two empty words, it is the astounding realization that we are seeing the world only from our point of view, through our own movie script where we have pre-written everyone’s role. Only when we stop and curiously see those around us as people with views as valid as our own can we start to ask and then see how we are the problem.
Only then, together, can we start to see a solution that we could not have seen before.
About the Author
Gillian Campbell is a qualified and chartered member of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is a certified member of the Arbinger Coaches Network, and is a member of The Association of British Psychologists and a trained community mediator.