Uh, boss, I blew the roof off the building

Last week, I did a one-day leadership training at a Fintech start up. The team is impressive — a mix of veteran expertise and youthful energy —  and they’ve just secured another round of funding so they’re at a critical inflection point, building out their teams across Europe, South America and Asia.

But with the growth, they told me, there’s a culture of blame emerging. Increasingly, when something goes “wrong,” people are focused on identifying who made the mistake and asking: “Whose fault is this?”

That there is the ultimate productivity killer.

Because when everyone’s energy is primarily spent on avoiding blame, how can they do real, focused work? Trust and accountability go out the window, and scapegoating and excuses take their place. 

Here’s the thing: Our survival-based brain doesn’t care about fancy leadership concepts. It simply perceives mistakes as a sign of weakness and prepares its defense.

But when your team starts optimizing for self-protection and short-term goals, your company will miss out on the very learning that could sustain its long-term growth.

As a young engineer at GE, Jack Welch caused a chemical explosion that blew the roof off the building he worked in. Understandably shaken, he nervously drove the 100 miles to company HQ to face the music and explain himself to the boss. But the treatment he received was understanding and supportive and he never forgot it: “If we’re managing good people who are clearly eating themselves up over an error, our job is to help them through it.”

As a leader, you have to create a culture where it’s safe to make mistakes. You have to send the message that trying new things and making mistakes is part of their job. That the learning they gain from making mistakes is, in fact, valuable intellectual property!  

And YOU have to go first. Your team is watching, taking cues from your behavior. 

Imagine how it would be to feel confident and secure enough to admit you screwed up, without fear of losing the respect or trust of your team. To watch them step up and take extreme ownership for an error and see the immediate ripple effect through your organization. (The day after my leadership training, one manager told me she had already received several emails from team members apologizing for their behavior.)

There’s a small group of leaders, however, who learn how to own their insecurities and express them with the confidence and clarity it takes to never feel embarrassed or inferior again.  As a result they can relax into their own authentic style of leadership, even if they’ve been ‘in hiding’ for years.  

p.s. If you’ve decided it’s time to level up your leadership and create a more productive, innovative team, AND you’re committed to identifying your “blind spots” once and for all, let’s talk. I’ll work with you to map out a game plan to expand your leadership range, avoiding ALL of the most common pitfalls and creating confidence and clarity in the version of yourself you most want to be.

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