What Is It About Your Leadership?

Blame is the oldest game in town. It was invented by Adam who, after eating of the forbidden fruit, told God, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). In other words, it’s Eve’s fault. (And, by extension, God’s fault.)

picture of a woman looking in the mirror

Not much has changed since Adam’s day. Ask almost anyone why something bad happened and they will point to someone or something else. In my experience, it is exceedingly rare for people to stand up and take responsibility.Last month, we missed our budget. I was disappointed. So was the entire Executive Leadership Team. We had worked so hard to hit our numbers. But, we missed. It happens, right?

A few days later, I was meeting with Ilene, one of our consultants. She asked me, “So, how did July end up?” I admitted that we had missed our budget. She innocently asked, “So why did you miss?”

I then did what most CEOs do in this situation. I blamed the current economic environment. “Well, the market is tough right now,” I explained. “Gas prices are up. So are interest rates. This has taken a bite out of discretionary spending. Consumers are just not frequenting bookstores like we had hoped.” I then went on to cite the U.S. Census Bureau, Publishers Weekly, and other industry publications.

I finished with what I thought was a note of optimism. “We didn’t do what we had hoped, but we’re still ahead of last year.”

She then said, “Okay, I get that the environment is tough. But, let’s be honest, it’s always tough, right?”

“Yes,” I acknowledged, not quite knowing where she was going. Then she dropped a bombshell on my psyche.

“Mike, what is it about your leadership that led to this outcome?”

“Excuse me,” I replied, knowing full well what she had just asked. Nevertheless, she gently repeated the question.

Honestly, I think I was speechless for a full two minutes. “Well, I’m not exactly sure,” I stammered. “That’s a great question, but I don’t know quite what to say.”

Thankfully, she gave me a little help. “As long as the problem is ‘out there,’ Mike, you can’t fix it. You’re just a victim. I’m not trying to shame you. I am trying to empower you. You can’t change your results until you accept full responsibility for them.” I nodded in agreement, still not sure if I liked what I was hearing.

She patiently waited for the weight of her observation to sink in. We then spent the next couple of hours examining my behavior. As it turns out, I was not only making excuses for myself, I was making excuses for my team. I was too easily letting them off the hook. I slowly began to see a direct link between my leadership and our operating results as a Company.

The bad news about taking responsibility is that you can’t blame someone else. It always comes down to your leadership. There is always something else you could have said or done to produce a different result.

But the good news is that once you accept responsibility, you can change the result. Why? Because your behavior as a leader is 100 percent under your control. Changing the result is as simple—or as hard—as changing your behavior.

Imagine how different your family, church, company, or even country could be if everyone took personal responsibility for their outcomes. Perhaps Gandhi was thinking the same thing when he said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

I have continued to ask myself this question over the last several weeks. What is it about my leadership that is producing these results? It’s a powerful—and empowering—question. And, it applies to just about every situation.

So let me ask you, are you happy with the outcomes you are experiencing in your life and work? Where would you like to see change? What have you been blaming on other people or your circumstances. What is it about your leadership that is producing these outcomes?

Until you are willing to ask this question—and face the answers—you will continue to get the same old results.

Question: So what is it about your leadership that has created the results you are experiencing?
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  • Bill

    Mike,
    Ok….I'm all about the 'The Buck Stops Here" philosophy. I have my own business, and, as you well know, there's no one to blame in small business but yourself. But I would like to push back on your posting on two points. First, I know you. I worked for you for several years. And for your consultant to allow you to conclude that you don't take responsibility for your business is, well, humorous to me. I always knew you as a guy that was realistic in his outlook. And, frankly, there are times where things are out of your control (albeit, I doubt gas prices are keeping people from buying your books). There are real issues that are affecting your business, and it is certainly your team's responsibility to figure that out (i.e.-staying up with technology, which you do personally so well). But this leads to my second, point…. I was a bit bothered by your statement "I was letting them off the hook" (referring to your staff). That statement implied to me that you have not been diligent enough to hold your team accountable. Or (worse) that you had not been direct enough in holding them accountable. Well, once again, I would say this…..I used to sit in the monthly Business Review Meetings with you, representing a division that was having a tough time. I never felt you weren't holding me accountable for my division's poor business. Quite the opposite.

    I share all this to remind you of something. One of the reasons you're the leader of Thomas Nelson today is because of your managment style. You're fair and levelheaded. Reasonable. PUH-LEEZE don't start listening to consultants who are trying to turn you into every other executive in the publishing world. Yes, your business may be down right now from where you've projected (which leads me to questions, "Are Intermedia's expectations too high?" and "Can your team not say 'no' to those expectations?". But in the long run, your collaborative management style works. People WANT to work for you, and they WANT to do a good job for you. I THINK POSITIVE EMPLOYEE MORALE (WHICH YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE FOSTERS) WILL SOLVE MORE OF YOUR REVENUE PROBLEMS IN THE LONG RUN THAN CHANGING HOW YOU MANAGE YOUR PEOPLE IN THE SHORT TERM. Please don't loose focus of that. And please don't let a business cycle or an industry shift cause you to change who you are.

    When I left TNI, one of the hardest parts of the decision was leaving your management. While I didn't always agree with you, I always trusted you.

  • Bill

    Mike,
    Ok….I’m all about the ‘The Buck Stops Here” philosophy. I have my own business, and, as you well know, there’s no one to blame in small business but yourself. But I would like to push back on your posting on two points. First, I know you. I worked for you for several years. And for your consultant to allow you to conclude that you don’t take responsibility for your business is, well, humorous to me. I always knew you as a guy that was realistic in his outlook. And, frankly, there are times where things are out of your control (albeit, I doubt gas prices are keeping people from buying your books). There are real issues that are affecting your business, and it is certainly your team’s responsibility to figure that out (i.e.-staying up with technology, which you do personally so well). But this leads to my second, point…. I was a bit bothered by your statement “I was letting them off the hook” (referring to your staff). That statement implied to me that you have not been diligent enough to hold your team accountable. Or (worse) that you had not been direct enough in holding them accountable. Well, once again, I would say this…..I used to sit in the monthly Business Review Meetings with you, representing a division that was having a tough time. I never felt you weren’t holding me accountable for my division’s poor business. Quite the opposite.

    I share all this to remind you of something. One of the reasons you’re the leader of Thomas Nelson today is because of your managment style. You’re fair and levelheaded. Reasonable. PUH-LEEZE don’t start listening to consultants who are trying to turn you into every other executive in the publishing world. Yes, your business may be down right now from where you’ve projected (which leads me to questions, “Are Intermedia’s expectations too high?” and “Can your team not say ‘no’ to those expectations?”. But in the long run, your collaborative management style works. People WANT to work for you, and they WANT to do a good job for you. I THINK POSITIVE EMPLOYEE MORALE (WHICH YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE FOSTERS) WILL SOLVE MORE OF YOUR REVENUE PROBLEMS IN THE LONG RUN THAN CHANGING HOW YOU MANAGE YOUR PEOPLE IN THE SHORT TERM. Please don’t loose focus of that. And please don’t let a business cycle or an industry shift cause you to change who you are.

    When I left TNI, one of the hardest parts of the decision was leaving your management. While I didn’t always agree with you, I always trusted you.

  • http://www.logon.ie/internet-marketing-blog/ Alastair

    Fantastic post, and a great reply from one of your former staff just now – just as important I think.

  • http://www.logon.ie/internet-marketing-blog/ Alastair

    Fantastic post, and a great reply from one of your former staff just now – just as important I think.

  • Fazl Siddiqui

    Interesting article at a time when I have been researching on the subject of Accountability to be included in the leadership 'values' or 'competencie'. I think the term accountability has a negative connotation to it and I would like to call it "Ownership" instead. However, can suggest any reading that would highlight leaders ownership for actions related to operations, financial, and people that I can include in my definition of the term for my proposal on leaders values/competencies.

  • Fazl Siddiqui

    Interesting article at a time when I have been researching on the subject of Accountability to be included in the leadership ‘values’ or ‘competencie’. I think the term accountability has a negative connotation to it and I would like to call it “Ownership” instead. However, can suggest any reading that would highlight leaders ownership for actions related to operations, financial, and people that I can include in my definition of the term for my proposal on leaders values/competencies.

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  • http://www.shyjumathew.com/ Shyju

    wow mic! Exceptionally good one!

  • http://www.shyjumathew.com/ Shyju

    wow mic! Exceptionally good one!

  • http://www.leadershiplessonsfromthebook.com/ Bill Bliss

    I just saw this post, even though it has been up for two years. I recently attended a conference where Horst Schultz, the co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, spoke on leadership. He said that one of the ways we could distinguish between a leader and a manager was that a leader did not offer excuses but a manager did. A leader will determine solutions. This is very much in line with your post of two years ago. As leaders, we absolutely can control our circumstances and get our teams prepared to face those circumstances.

    Well done, Mike.

  • http://www.leadershiplessonsfromthebook.com Bill Bliss

    I just saw this post, even though it has been up for two years. I recently attended a conference where Horst Schultz, the co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, spoke on leadership. He said that one of the ways we could distinguish between a leader and a manager was that a leader did not offer excuses but a manager did. A leader will determine solutions. This is very much in line with your post of two years ago. As leaders, we absolutely can control our circumstances and get our teams prepared to face those circumstances.

    Well done, Mike.

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