Growing up, I loved collecting baseball cards. Do you remember them? Before the internet, Facebook, and Twitter provided us inside access to our favorite athletes, player cards were THE way to get to know your favorite player. I'd keep my player cards in a shoe box and look through them every season. It was my way to connect with players in a way that made me feel like I knew them at a personal level. But the cards didn't tell the true story. They merely gave me enough information to create my own definition of who they were. What really defined them went well beyond the simple stats and history of the clubs they played for represented on the card. I was deciding who I wanted them to be.
How about you? I imagine there are plenty of people who would like to decide who they want you to be, too. Maybe it's your current peer group. Maybe it's the leaders in your profession. Could it even be the voices of past experiences long-ago removed from your current reality? Regardless, can we agree that, like me with my player cards, there are others defining who they want you to be based on their own desires?
When we allow others to define who we should be, we lose our ownership for creating the life we were meant to live. Each of us have been gifted with personalized passions, purposes, and interests that if we don't guard them, can become buried in the expectations placed upon us from the outside. One of the chief thieves of our potential is the presumption of others for who we are to be! It doesn't have to be this way. T.S. Elliot provided a way forward when he said, "Whatever you think, be sure it is what you think; whatever you want, be sure that is what you want; whatever you feel, be sure that is what you feel." Here's a place to start.
Take 30 minutes to write out your answer to these three questions?
Remember being on the playground in 4th grade? Playing tag, kickball, swinging on the swing set, jumping rope, climbing monkey bars, sliding down the slide. Girls on one side of the yard and boys on the complete opposite end as far away as possible! Good times, yes? I remember all those things, too. Simple times. Another thing I remember about the playground was how everyone clamored to be right. You remember? We were all playing and having a good time and then someone decides to chime in with, “Nuh Uh! That’s not right!” Maybe it was related to a rule for a game, whose turn it is, the definition of a word, or who touched base first. Those words always came out- “That’s not right!”
Think back. What happened next? When you were the one saying, “That’s not right!” what did your friends do? I got defensive. I dug my heels in and locked down on my position. Did you? If you did, you’re normal! I loved being right. And loving to be right got in the way of having fun. It broke down relationships, and cut-off any chance of working together with my friends. Entire games or activities would come to a screeching halt, all around someone wanting to be right.
While we aren’t on the playground anymore, we still find ourselves in the position of wanting to be right. Many of us achieved a position of leadership because of our knowledge and ability to make good decisions. Right decisions. Before we had a leadership position we’d gather the facts, assess the situation, determine the course of action, and then make it happen. We got results. Getting results independently and getting results through a team requires different behaviors. What worked when you were not responsible for a team doesn’t work when you are. Leaders are especially prone to taking and defending a position because of our previous experience, knowledge, and success. Maybe you’ve seen this played out in meetings, in sales calls, or in managing an internal project. When we as leaders act on a desire to be right absent of our team it comes at a hefty price- a lost connection with those who follow us.
I’m sure you see the problem here. When leaders are disconnected from their team things don’t get done to the level of excellence they would if someone actually wanted to do them for the leader. A loss of connection is a loss of engagement. When engagement is low people pull back on their efforts and their commitment to excellence. This affects the outcomes a leader is looking to achieve. Who gets better results; someone committed and connected to a leader or someone just going through the motions? That’s a rhetorical question.
So, what does a leader do in order to find the best solution to a problem when he thinks he has the answer? First, he checks his ego at the door and decides he’s not the only one who has answers to problems. Regardless of how much knowledge or success he’s had in previous roles or situations. Second, he reminds himself that he’s there to serve the team now not to serve his desire to be the one delivering results. Until a leader is open to the idea that others are gifted, talented and bring perspectives he doesn’t have, there really isn’t much to be done. Once you’ve put down your desire to be right, you’re ready to engage others and collaborate on solutions.
Here is a three-step process you as a leader can use stay connected with your team and find the right solution for moving forward.
You see the common theme here. Our assumptions often drive our desire to be right. We make assumptions and close our minds off to potential solutions that don’t fit the frame we’ve placed around the problem. Removing assumptions opens up the possibility for facts to drive our creativity in solving problems. It also opens up the opportunity to bring others into the process. Inclusion in the problem solving process is the key to keeping your team engaged. It’s the antidote to the “I have to be right” syndrome that plagues many leaders and disconnects them from their team. Remember that playground? What would be different if we could have collaborated to solve a problem instead of having to be right? I think it would have been a lot more fun. Leading your team will be a lot more fun for everyone when you choose to put down the desire to be right and pick up the desire to connect.
Questions To Grow Your Leadership
W. Shane McKenzie is an Executive Coach and Mentor who specializes in helping successful leaders leave their job to own a business using proven strategies to minimize risk.