Monday, November 25, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust-Taking One for the Team

I define "taking one for the team" broadly as a leader taking personal accountability for team failure or under performance.  

There are always underlying reasons for failure.  Sometimes teams are under-resourced for the task.  There are often competing priorities. A "can-do" spirit....and previous success.... can cause a team or subordinate team leader to over commit.  It's the leaders job to properly resource teams, resolve competing priorities, track progress and intervene when necessary.  Given those leadership tasks, it is easy to conclude the leader should take personal accountability for a team or part of a team's failure.  Although this is easy to say, it isn't always easy for leaders to do in practice.

What makes it so hard?  In some organizations it is popular to establish stretch targets and then regard failure to reach the stretch target as under-performance.  Internal competition among business units, reinforced by variable pay systems, can lead to what amounts to a personal financial penalty to the leader for a team failure.  Some organizations even have a "zero defects" approach to performance where a single failure attributed to a leader is a potential career ending event.  I've even had situations where the manager to whom I reported didn't appreciate the professional competence or behaviour of one of my direct reports...either from a prior assignment or an interaction in the current assignment.  All of those situations can make it convenient for the leader to avoid "taking one for the team."

The best leaders recognize this is what you sign up for when you become a leader.  When things go well you put forward those on the team who did the work.  When they don't go well, you step up, take personal accountability, work with the team to diagnose the root causes of failure and formulate corrective action for the future.  Team members trust leaders who support them, even when things don't go well.


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