Can you subtract as well as add?


Peter’s* boss had lost the plot and the board were moving to replace him. Peter and the rest of the leadership team had lost focus. The business was not performing well and staff morale was at an all-time low. Everyone was waiting for someone else to do something. Peter took on being ‘the one’ to challenge the leadership team to turn things around during the hiatus period while the search for a new CEO was conducted.

It was a personal decision. He had not been given any authority, but people responded well to his leadership and got back into action instead of standing around observing the train wreck that was happening around them. Peter worked with his boss to enable him to have a dignified exit. He handled the arrival of a new CEO with integrity. His willingness to take leadership responsibility during this difficult time was noted by the board.   

What people did not see was that Peter had to give up his view that he did not have what it takes to be ‘the one’ to provide much-needed leadership at this important time. He also gave up his point of view about how others were responding to this difficult situation. Importantly he surrendered his concern that his peers would think that he was getting too big for his boots by taking responsibility for leading the business.

Giving things up is an aspect of leadership that is not often talked about. We are continually bombarded with the latest list of leadership skills or tools to add to our kit bag to be effective leaders. Of course, there is nothing wrong with adding to our repertoire. But what are the things that we need to subtract? You know, like the insidious internal conversation of self-doubt that does not serve us. Instead it keeps us playing a safe, small game.

Jack Zenger CEO of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development firm, submits that “a person’s demonstrated willingness to behave responsibly…” is one of the major reasons why one person is selected for a promotion while others with equal skills, education and experience get passed over. He argues that it is not so much about the position the individual occupies as it is about their attitude toward responsibility. It is an attitude that places the goals of the organisation higher than individual or even team goals.

But to take on greater responsibility for achieving the goals of the organisation you may need to give up your limiting points of view about yourself and others.

What could you give up to allow you to take greater responsibility?

Best regards, Brian

* Name changed to protect the innocent

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