Victim, Judge or Warrior – Surviving a Mistake
Mistakes happen to the best of people and organizations. When I was promoted to Chief Financial Officer at the age of 29, I articulated my fear of making a mistake to one of my mentors. It was overwhelming to accept and consider the responsibility of the lead financial role. I would be the last one to review information before it went to the President and Board. The response I got from expressing my concerns was great – You will make mistakes, I guarantee it. What sets great leaders apart is how they deal with the mistakes.
What I learned from that experience is that leaders can impede or even stop the ability to develop and execute strategy if they do not take responsibility for their own mistakes. Lack of execution can cause the organization to miss revenue opportunities and quickly burn through cash.
When you are a leader of an organization one of the toughest responsibilities you have is leading by example. The Type A leaders who are bold enough to put together a start up or buy a company may not be sufficiently self-aware to take responsibility for their own actions and, as a result, when something goes wrong they can turn into one of three personalities: the Victim, the Judge or the Warrior. What happens next depends on which personality the leader assumes.
The Victim says, “I can’t believe the team did this. They are out of control and now this project is ruined.” This is followed by public accusations that humiliate workers.
The Judge says, “I can’t believe this happened. I am so stupid for trusting the team and I am never going to do it again. The project is ruined.” This is followed with micromanagement and control freak like activities.
Either personality can lead to turnover in the organization, which significantly slows down the organization’s ability to develop and execute strategy. A Star player on your management team will not stay and live in chaos. The star players on the team are all updating their resumes and keeping their ear to the ground to determine what other positions they can pursue. They will resign and say something like: “This opportunity was just too good to give up” or “They approached me, I was not looking.” They were not looking until the leader turned into the Victim and/or Judge and created chaos and an uncomfortable working environment. The culture is such that the star player cannot contribute in a meaningful way and they will leave you. Baby boomers tend to have a deeper sense of loyalty, so they may stay and hope the situation will change. The Millennial generation, in contrast, will bolt quickly once the Victim and/or Judge show up. They are very focused on making certain they can personally contribute immediately.
The Warrior says, “I’m responsible for this team and actions. How can we correct and learn from this mistake?”
Instead of using blame and shame to work through the dissonance, Warriors use tools like awareness, compassion, integrity, and ownership. Warriors empower their team to fix issues with customers at the earliest point possible. Warriors take responsibility and execute. Execution leads to building enterprise value and higher existing values.
Leaders, take an honest assessment of your leadership style and adopt a Warrior attitude!
Responsibility can be scary. Leaders put on your big girl or boy pants and take responsibility as the Warrior. Stop the blame and shame, micromanaging and control freak ways that keep the organization from executing. We all have the ability to change once we become self-aware – take an honest assessment of your own actions.
Board members, investors, coaches, and mentors – challenge the leaders of the organizations in this area. Although it can feel distressing to challenge a leader without it sounding like a personal attack, it comes with the territory. I have sat in many a meeting when I knew the Board wanted to ask these types of questions and did not because it is uncomfortable. You have a fiduciary responsibility to address the issue if you think it exists. If you suspect it exists – it almost certainly does.
Star players – before you update your resume and bolt, try to effectively manage up and have a frank conversation with your leader about the situation. Even if it does not work and the leader does not change, it is good practice for you. To help develop the dialogue, consider reading the book, “Crucial Conversations, Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High,” (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler), before initiating the conversation.
As a Chief Future Officer, I can help you analyze your financial results and determine if the actual results are aligned with your strategy. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.mindybarkerassociates.com.