Frustrated with People? Look Within...

By Cathy McCullough

dateSun, May 15, 2016 @ 12:00 PM

It’s probably one of the most common frustrations I hear from leaders: “Why on earth don’tlook-within.jpg these people do what we need them to do!?!” It might be that your people are making decisions that perplex you, or that you expected them to focus on one thing…when you later find out they focused on something totally different, or that you thought there was clear agreement and understanding, but yet you really aren’t seeing significant movement in the right direction. In the beginning, you really don’t notice it much; then with a bit more time, you notice it but you more or less shrug it off; with a bit more time, you recognize it and wonder what the heck is going on. Keep in mind: This scenario might be observed by the CEO of his/her own Executive Team, but you might also be hearing it from other divisional leaders, etc., about the people that report to them. It can be maddening and the wider it spreads, the worse things are within the walls of your organization.

So, the question you ask is: What do we do about this vicious cycle? The answer is actually easier than you might think. And the seemingly simplistic answer is actually much more complex than you might think. The answer? Look within.

Leadership has fascinated me for 25+ years. I love observing it, asking questions about it, researching it, reading about it, coaching it, etc. Leadership, People, and Strategic Intent are my world, and over all these years of study, one thing I can tell you is that everything rests on the degree to which leaders understand the art of leadership, and the only way the art of leadership can be understood is by how you, as a leader, truly do “look within.” Looking within requires that you, the leader, become very in tune with what, and how, you think.

Here are a few examples: 

You aren’t a “boss.” You’re a “coach.” And the omission of capital letters with both descriptions is intentional. Many leaders I’ve worked over the years describe themselves very differently than others describe them. While some professionals say that leadership 360-type assessments are obtuse, rude, and inaccurate, well…ok…but truly, how else are you going to know the truth? (And, as Jack Nicholson’s famous line in the movie A Few Good Men, noted: Maybe…“you can’t handle the truth!”) So I ask you: Can you handle the truth? If so, do a leadership assessment on yourself. When I work with clients to do this, I do either a very formal leadership 360 assessment OR I do what I call a “soft 360”: I interview people instead of asking them to take an assessment. The bottom-line is this: You have to have data. Are you, as a leader, part of the problem? You have to know the answer to that question because it’s the only way you can figure out if you’re a direct part of the problem (or not) relative to why people aren’t doing what you need them to do. And yes: Sometimes the truth hurts. Looking within isn’t always easy.

Leadership is about influence. In all honesty, people want leadership. The challenge is that over their years of participating in the world of work, they’ve experienced some really bad leaders. Naturally, this experience makes people hesitant to believe that effective leadership skills exist within any leader! The best thing you can do, as a leader, is to recognize that leadership really is about your influence. It has nothing at all to do with your place on an org chart. Forget about the chart. Instead, do your own self-analysis. What are you like to work for? This seems like a simple question, but in all honesty, it’s full of complexity because what matters most is the degree to which your leadership style influences the people around you to do what you need them to do. Leadership is (literally) about influence, not “position” on an org chart. What matters to the bottom-line of the company is your leadership influence. Believe me, it has absolutely nothing at all to do with your position on the org chart. People might “obey” you because of your position, but they will “follow” you because of your influence. To that end:

How often do you impose your assumed power? (Think about that for just a minute…and recognize that your intent to do this might not actually match your actual behaviors…)

Answer the question: On a very personal level, who in your lifetime to date, has influenced you? (Advancing to the key observation: What you should see in this list of key influencers is that it wasn’t the influence of power that spoke to you; it was something about the behaviors of these people toward you that translated into what influenced you.) 

As a leader, recognize that you earn moral authority. According to Andy Stanley, moral authority is the credibility you earn by walking your talk. It takes a lot of hard work, and time, to earn…and only one second to lose. As a leader, to what degree are you linking what you’re asking people to do to the overall strategic intent of the organization? How do you share with your direct reports that ‘doing the right thing’ will always be honored? Leadership requires that you do the right thing, no matter what. Leadership also asks that you earn your moral authority by admitting when you’re wrong.

People will follow you based on your character…and not because of your leadership. People might be able to throw rocks at you because of what you appear to support, but never because of your character. The key here is to recognize that how you respond to what “hits” you is most important. How you respond to challenging situations is what defines you (and in turn, it feeds—or not—the degree of your influence). 

Most of us truly do intend to do what we do with effectiveness and impact. But without looking within, that’s simply not possible to the degree we might like. The executive-level workshops I’ve led over the years on Looking Within have resulted in truly emotional revelations about personal intent not matching actual behaviors. It can be a very moving experience that literally changes lives. So, take the time for yourself and encourage other leaders in your company to dig in, to dive in, to look deeper. Look within.

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Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images


Cathy McCullough


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images