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Leadership Starts with Ownership

In Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud.  He sets up the primary challenge that all leaders face at one point or another.

“There are a lot of ways to get there.  The real problem is getting the people to do what it takes to make the plan work.  That is where you win or lose. It’s always about the people… Ultimately, leadership is about turning a vision into reality; it’s about producing real results in the real world.  And that is only done through people doing what it takes to make it happen.”   
 Most leaders understand that in order for the vision to become a reality we need to bring people to a place where they are committed to the vision; where they embrace it and embody it.The real problem for leaders, and the place that many of us get stuck is when we look around at our organizations and we realize that people are not committed to the vision; they don’t embrace it or embody it.  In fact, they may not even be able to articulate it.  Then what?  What do we do now?

It can be a challenging and frustrating time for leaders.  The natural tendency for most leaders is to start looking for answers.  It’s also natural (or at least tempting) to start looking for answers “out there”… among the people.   Before you do, allow yourself to take a quick look in the mirror.

: “Who’s the leader?  Who’s in charge of the culture?  Who is in charge of the way that it’s working?”
A: “I am…  I’m ridiculously in charge.  I’m going to get what I build or what I allow.  Everything that exits in this organization exist either because I created it or because allowed it.”  
It’s a central principal of leadership: ownership.  If things are not going the way I’d like them to go in my organization, department (or any other place where I’m the leader) as painful as it may be, I need to look in the mirror. What that does is put the responsibility right where it belongs.  Squarely on the shoulders of the leader.

You Don’t Stop Leading – You Lead in a Different Direction

Often times what we find is that we are more responsible for what is happening (or not happening) than we would like to admit.   It’s easy to do.  We loose focus.  We lack clarity.  We’re too tired or too busy or too _______ (insert favorite excuse here).

As leaders, most of us don’t just decide one day to stop leading.   Instead, we allow ourselves over time and through circumstances to fall into any one of several leadership traps.  It’s not so much that we stop leading as that we start leading in different and often unhealthy ways.

See if you can identify with any of these leadership traps and talk about them with your mentor.

Leadership Traps

  • The Drifting Leader: You find yourself drifting from week to week without a clear sense of direction.  Just do what you’ve always done.  You can go days, weeks or months without initiating anything new.  You lack clarity. While you may have a general idea of your purpose or goal you have no plan to help you achieve it.  As a result you’re
    • filling your time with busywork
    • reacting instead of acting and allowing those you lead to set your weekly agenda
    • mixing up priorities
    • feeling jealous of others who seem to be “getting it”
  • The Deflated Leader: Right now you’re living with lack of motivation.  Either the battle is not worth fighting or you’re too tired to fight it.  Your motivation (and your sense of optimism) are long gone.  Despite all your efforts to communicate your plight as the leader, no one seems to understand. You find yourself:
    • not showing up or not being on time
    • mentally checking out
    • allowing others take over
    • allowing others to set the agenda
    • questioning your future with the organization
  • The Limited Leader: Right now you’re only seeing the limitations, the obstacles and the reasons it won’t work. For you, the glass is half empty.  People think you’re negative.  You think you’re a realist.  You might be a limited leader if you find yourself:
    • bad-mouthing the boss the idea or the vision
    • complaining
    • blaming others for the results your getting (or not getting)
    • taking a stubborn stance
    • ignoring things (selective listening or selective data)
    • shutting out new ideas
  • The Waffling Leader:  It sounds good when you talk about it.  Even better when someone else explains it.  But what’s more real to you is the possibility of failing or making a mistake.  Because of that fear you find yourself
    • frequently changing your mind
    • changing your tune depending on your audience
    • “shopping the idea” with your friends or peers and agreeing with them every time
    • starting the same thing over again and again.
  • The Idling or Avoiding Leader: What characterizes your work right now is a lack of follow-through.  You know what you ought to do.  You know why you ought to do it and you even know how to do it.  You’re just not doing it.  You might be:
    • Allowing yourself to be distracted by other things
    • talking about it, but not doing anything about it
    • unconvinced
  • The Ad-Libbing Leader: Your biggest challenge right now is a lack of preparation.  You know what you want to accomplish, there’s just too much to do.  The job is too big.  Things are coming at you so fast that you find yourself:
    • Feeling overwhelmed
    • unable to focus
    • Over-promising and under-delivering,
    • winging it
    • working too many hours
    • feeling overworked and under-productive.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. What do you think (or feel) when you hear the statement “I’m ridiculously in charge.”  Why?
  4. Do you agree with Dr. Cloud’s principle that what exists in your organization is what you’ve built or what you’ve allowed? What (if any) are some exceptions to this principle?
  5. Share an example of a time when you fell into one of the leadership traps. How did you find your way out of that trap?
  6. Are you currently experiencing any of these leadership traps?  Which one(s)?
  7. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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