I’m guilty. I didn’t necessarily bring myself up on charges, but as my own personal jury and judge in the self-aware court of law, I found myself guilty as charged. Guilty of spending too much time leading where I wanted and not enough where I was needed. Last week my Shipmate from another Service, or in the parlance of his Service, Battle Buddy, made a plea with me to spend more time leading where I was needed. He made me aware of things that were falling apart outside of my primary field a view. A field of view that is part of my responsibility, but not in the periphery of the tunnel vision I have had of late. It is no secret that I enjoy the strategic far more than the tactical; I enjoy creating things far more than I do correcting the work of others; I purposely spend more attention contemplating what will (or should) be in favor of what is. While I was leading where I wanted (and having a great deal of fun doing just that), the tactical execution of important, but rather mundane tasks were taking a hit. A hit that could be quickly remediated with the proper focus. With the prodding of a teammate prompting a simple head swivel, I shifted my attention to leading where I was needed.
I firmly believe that leadership can fix just about any organizational ill over time. I also believe that poor leadership can be the primary reason teams that were once great ultimately fall apart. Organizations come to reflect the personality of and the priorities of their leadership. I am not going to tell you that I have stopped leading where I want, I continue to do that. Likewise, I am not going to claim that everything is fixed simply because I am spending more time leading where I am needed. I am merely acknowledging the reality that a leader has to have a panoramic view. And even with a continuous scan of that panoramic view, there are things deserving of our attention that we are going to miss. This teammate, though my junior, was more than comfortable telling me where I was falling short as a leader and by doing so, how I was letting him and the team down. Though I didn’t particularly enjoy listening to him tell me where I was falling short, what he felt he needed from me, and how my game was slipping a bit, I smiled. I smiled because I had made him feel comfortable holding me accountable and I smiled because he cared so deeply about the team we were charged with leading.
Shortly after the exchange, I reflected on a high school football-themed movie from the 1980s starring Tom Cruise, All the Right Moves. Tom’s character (Stefan) was a star player on the team and during a heated lecture from his coach where he and his teammates were accused of quitting on a play, Stefan responded with a “We didn’t quit, you quit!” (a commentary on his risk-averse game plan). Though the rest of the team (as well as the movie audience) believed the accusation Stefan made was true, no one else spoke up. In the movie, Stefan was kicked out of the locker room for being disrespectful. Though my teammate’s words stung a bit, he was right and I told him so. I thanked him for choosing to share his thoughts and caring so much about our leadership charge. I gave no excuses and shared no plan. I merely promised that my actions would make it clear that I was refocused. Since then, we have outlined a way ahead, made some personnel moves, and changed some of our own behaviors. We are a more unified team as a result of the exchange and though we have much more to do, we are more committed than ever and I am now leading where I am needed.
A leader cannot see everything, but a leadership team can see far more than a singular leader. It’s paramount that leaders share awareness and lead together. Though we all have areas of our leadership portfolio where we want to spend more time, there is bound to be areas that are more deserving of our attention than others. We may be prone to lead where we want, but our primary responsibility is to lead where we are needed.
- Are you guilty of spending most of your time leading where you want?
- Are you spending enough time leading where you are needed?
- When was the last time a junior cared enough to give you constructively critical feedback? How did you respond?