Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Quandary of Leadership - Optimist and Realist

One month ago today I shared a quote from Aristotle Onassis, a Greek Shipping Mogul who married Jacqueline Kennedy. In case you missed it, here is the quote:

Also this month, I shared a quote via my social media feeds from Edith Wharton:

There Are Two Ways of Spreading Light: To Be The Candle Or The Mirror That Reflects It. 

Within these two quotes is the true quandary of leadership. Your job as a leader is often to define the objectives and the path forward, then make sure that the team continues to move toward those objectives. That means through the good and the bad.

Unfortunately, that means a leader has to be an Optimist and a Realist, but never a Pessimist: 

Optimist because the leader has to believe that the objective can be achieved and that there is a reason to keep working on something, no matter how hard the path becomes. 

Realist because (s)he has to be aware of the difficulties and challenges the team faces or will face. (S)he will need to be knowledgeable enough of the challenges to ensure that the team can overcome them. 

Never a Pessimist because (s)he will spread doom and gloom through the team until they cannot see any light. Then the team will fail and in the business world, the star performers will move away from the darkness. 

And that is the Quandary, because a leader has to see the light (and sometimes provide it) while guiding the team to it (Optimist), but not blinded by the light to the point of missing what is really going on and impacting the team (Realist). 

Too often people will take a leadership position and fall into one or the other column, but not straddle both. They fall into the Optimist camp, thinking everything is perfect and rosy, never seeing the tunnel (or worse, cliff) that the team is heading towards until the team is in complete disarray and a disaster ensues. Or they are so much the Realist that they become a Pessimist, spreading doom and gloom around the entire team, until the team can only fail. 

To circle it back around to the quote, you need to guide your team to the light, and sometimes become the light in order to ensure that the team accomplishes the goals, but you cannot be blinded by the light to the point where you miss the challenges. Some steps to help avoid the Quandary:

1. Make sure the entire team is aware of the end goal and what the next steps are to accomplish. In smaller teams, this means working with the individuals. In larger teams, this means working communication chains so that the proper information is passed down to each member of the team.

2. Take time to interact with team members of all levels, and ask them how things are going, and what you can do to make the job easier. Also, during this time, discuss with them where the team currently is and how it needs to move forward. MAKE SURE TO THANK THEM FOR THEIR EFFORTS!

3. When someone comes to you with a problem, don't kill the messenger. Instead work with the person to identify how you will address the issue. One of Morey's Laws is Fix the Problem, Not the Blame. Too often people jump to the blame game. If necessary, you can take the time to assess what happened, but first deal with the immediate problem. Once the immediate problem is resolved, then look back and identify the underlying cause. If it is a process or procedure, re-write it. If it is a piece of equipment, repair or replace it. If it is a person, then train or remove him / her. 

These steps are easier said than done, but if you can continually use the steps, then you can solve the Quandary of Leadership. 

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