If there is one certain thing in this world, we are all works-in-progress. This is particularly true of leaders. Leaders make mistakes, they are human. Good and great leaders are then able to learn from their mistakes and continue to grow.
My Big Mistake
This week I made a huge mistake that directly impacted one of my team members and they called me on it.
Here is the scene - During one of our regular weekly team members, one of our talented high potentials raised a great idea. I typically pride myself on giving praise where it is due. As a leader, I make a conscious and intentional effort to emphatically encourage team members when they speak up and share ideas. It is my way of celebrating and rewarding a speak up culture. I do so openly (and potentially over-enthusiastically) so that all team members witness my encouragement of people voicing their opinions and bringing new ideas to the table.
So where is the problem? This sounds like a positive encounter right?
At this moment, something shifted in the mood of the meeting. One of my senior managers went noticeably quiet and turned off her camera on Zoom. I had lost the engagement and enthusiasm of my trusted advisor and did not know why.
After the meeting had finished I was curious to know what had happened. After a little encouragement and reassurance she was in a safe space, the senior manager opened up and shared that she felt disrespected and invalidated.
To unravel the mystery, we need to wind the clock back. Several weeks earlier, this Senior Manager had come to me with the very same idea. I do recall at the time I was also supportive of the idea, but without the same gusto and praise. Furthermore, in the weeks since we had not made any progress towards implementing this idea.
She felt that when she raised the idea the reception was luke warm and yet now it is the "best idea ever". It made her feel there was favouritism in the team and that she (and her contributions) was not valued.
Processing that feedback
The next challenge is how to process feedback like this. Being completely honest, open and transparent here, my first reaction was "extrinsic". The first thought that popped into my head was "wow, you're being a little bit too sensitive" and to think "sorry, that was not my intention and YOU are taking this all wrong".
However, with the benefit of a few deep breaths, some 2nd and 3rd position thinking, and a big dose of empathy, I was able to see things much clearer.
It does not matter at all that I did not intend to make this person feel invalidated and not valued. The only thing that matters here is that my actions had made her feel this way.
Quiet Quitting and Disengagement
At this point thoughts start to flood my mind about "quiet quitting" and disengagement in the workplace. There are many factors that can lead to disengagement, but here is a perfect example happening right in front of my eyes. Within a short few minute of well-intentioned and poorly chosen words, my star player had shut down on me (at least temporarily).
As a leadership development coach and professional, I know that some of the most important things people look for in the workplace are to feel seen; to feel heard; and to feel like they matter. However, here I am, through my actions one of my key team members feels invisible, voiceless, and invalidated.
It makes me think and feel that there are countless examples of this happening in workplaces throughout the world. Well-intentioned leaders being completely oblivious to the impact their actions (and inactions) are having on those around them.
This is a huge wake up call for me and something that I will now strive to rectify here.
With awareness of this shortcoming in my leadership approach I can now do something about it.
Next year, I hope my team will have a better leader, and I hope that leader is me (not sure where I can credit this quote to, but I love it).
What are the takeaways here?
As a leader we need to be tuned into our environment. We need to ensure that:
every single member of our team feels seen, heard, and valued.
our actions are not having unintended consequences.
we are not playing favourites (intended or not)
praise of one team member is not at the expense of another.
we empower our teams to show us our blind spots.
we accept feedback as a gift, and
we strive to learn and grow every day.
Your call to action here is to think about whether you too are making this same mistake I have been making. Discuss it with your team, be open to their feedback, and act on it.
Twist on the home front
There is a twist to this story that I intentionally have left to the end.
The Senior Manager in this story is also my beautiful wife (Therese Spiers). We are partners in life, love, and business.
To add salt into the wound, in the story above I was not just invalidating an important team member, I was invalidating the woman I love.
Your bonus call to action here is to think about whether you are also doing this on the home front.
Have an honest and open conversation with each other. Do you or your partner ever fall into the trap of not fully listening to each other? Then when a friend raises the same idea all of a sudden you are all for it? This could be anything. Your partner might be suggesting you try a new restaurant or food; catching a new movie; or binge watching the latest series on Netflix.
Be super careful that you have not become complacent with each other. That you are putting more weight on the opinions and ideas of 3rd parties rather than your partner in life.
Food for thought.