I attended the CultureSync Leadership Unleashed event last November and experienced three challenging days filled with interesting conversations but some of the biggest lessons I learned actually came outside of the event. Let me share some of these lessons through a story.
I work as a senior consultant in a company that helps organization adopt agile practices. As part of my work, I coach teams, prepare various reports for customers and also prepare training materials. Some people would say I am demanding and that I put the quality bar very high for myself as well as the people around me. This is all fine and dandy when the demands are on myself but it creates painful moments for my colleagues when they do not meet the quality bar.
One evening during the Leadership Unleashed event, I shared my frustration with David, my triad mate, who listened attentively and asked me what I was doing about this. I expressed my frustration around explaining myself all the time and shared my solution to stop investing so much effort until the team decided to raise their game.
David asked me: “So here’s the thing Steffan… How will they get where you want if you stop helping them?”
I replied sheepishly: “But they just don’t get it… I am getting sick of this…”
“I don’t understand Steffan, explain where is the leadership in what you are doing? Where is the courage? You are doing what is easy!” replied David, shaking me up. “Let’s do a quick transparency check Stef. Let me tell you something, you are not being a leader — you are being a pussy… You are a machine, doing that high quality stuff is nothing to you, it’s easy for you. Just waiting for them to discover greatness while you look from above is not leadership.“
At this point, I was really rattled because I did not expect David to challenge me like that but I sat there and took my beating while letting everything sink in.
“David, you do not understand… It is a waste of effort fighting that battle, they do not want to change.”
“Steffan, did you have actual conversations about this with your team mates or do you just get mad?”
“But it’s hard? Tough shit Sherlock… That is life! Let me tell you this one more time, just so that it can sink in. YOU ARE NOT SHOWING ANY COURAGE. YOU ARE NOT BEING A LEADER. YOU ARE BEING A P-U-S-S-Y! You should really stop that, it really does not seem to be working out for you!”
That night left me lots to think about. I started having those awkward conversations and realized they were not always so awkward. I learned sometimes people do not know what they do not know and by sharing reasons and intent, it helped people discover some of these things on their own.
I also learned I needed to take more time to listen to their fears and concerns and make sure I could reassure them when necessary or at a minimum, make sure they understood my intentions. I found that I got a whole lot more traction with people this way and changes started to appear around me.
The other piece of courage was David challenging me on my behavior. Leadership is also about telling people what they do not want to hear because sometimes they really need to hear it.
So tell me, are you showing courage and being leader or are you just being a pussy?
** Note: This is the second version of this blog post. My fellow blogger Carrie challenged me to really own what happened that night and not hide behind a story. I decided to take her up on it… Thanks Carrie!**