In Change, Leaders

“If you start to think the problem is ‘out there,’ stop yourself. That thought is the problem. – Stephen Covey

One of the best parts of my career is having the opportunity to listen to leaders of all kinds of businesses talk about what they’re doing, what they’re thinking, what they think the future will be like, etc. They’re all dealing with similar issues, but they each have their own take on how to handle it. It’s an incredible educational experience.

Unfortunately, one of the worst parts of my career is having the opportunity to listen to leaders of all kinds of businesses shirk responsibility for what goes on in their organizations. Not that they ever actually say that’s what they’re doing. I don’t think most of them are even aware they’re doing it. It’s simply implied, and it often centers around one key area – People.

I’ve lost track of how many conversations I’ve had with leaders that included something about how the behavior of their people isn’t what they want, or it’s not enough of what they want, or sometimes that it’s even outright destructive. They don’t follow company policy or procedure, they don’t take initiative, they just kind of do what they want, etc. And this has been going on for a long time. And the leader is incredibly frustrated.

And over the years my response has become essentially this: Of course that’s what they’re doing. You’ve allowed them to do that for years. There is rarely any positive result if they do well, and there is rarely any negative result when they do poorly. If I’m an employee, and regardless of what I do the outcome is the same, then like any other human being I’m going to do whatever I want and/or as little as possible.

That’s your fault, leaders. You are responsible for the behavior of your people. No, you won’t ever have a group that’s perfect. But the reality is that bad behavior that’s gone on for a long time has gone on because you allowed it to go on. You might have a lot of great reasons (excuses?) for why that’s the case, but the fact remains that you’ve known about the behavior and didn’t stop it.

So when you evaluating your people, or thinking about the future, don’t let yourself off the hook. If your people don’t perform and you do nothing about it, then don’t complain when it continues. If your people perform exceptionally well and they have nothing to show for it, then don’t complain when it stops. You are the leader. Their behavior is up to you. So go do your job.

leader running up stairs

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