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Leaders Hiding Behind Their Teams Is Not Leadership

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil is not effective leadership.
Secret Service Special Agents assigned to a protective mission are prepared to lay their life down to fulfill their responsibility. It is part of their job. The job description may not specify, “Take a bullet for the President” but it is a directive. The men and women who serve know what needs to be done before they accept the position. I wonder if Governor Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff and top political aide had a similar directive that required them to “take a political bullet” for the Governor?

There is a credibility lapse in the political story of the moment. Leaders define acceptable actions by their leadership. People follow their leaders specifically or intuitively. When a clear directive is missing, the team looks for implied directions. This opens the door for mistakes and bad judgment.

It is possible that the team members acted on his or her own without the Governor’s knowledge or approval. It is also possible that Obama didn’t know about the NSA spy initiative or the problems with the HealthCare.gov site. Similarly, it is possible that the banking CEO’s didn’t know about the inner workings that led to the crisis. There are many questions about who knew what and who will take the blow but the question that needs to be asked of these leaders is, “are you ignorant, incompetent or both?”

If that sounds harsh, think about the fact that every person in an executive position accepted the responsibilities and benefits when he or she took the job. Compensation doesn’t come without challenges. Knowing what is going on in their administration is a critical part of effective leadership. Yes, some things may slide by but the big stuff better be covered. If it isn’t, then the person at the top is ignorant and incompetent.

In fairness, governing a state or growing a multi-billion dollar corporation requires a team effort. One individual cannot micro manage a behemoth organization. The key to success is leadership that clearly defines expectations and management that insures those expectations are being met. Leaders need trusted managers to follow up on initiatives and monitor activity to keep the organization moving in the right direction.

If you are the head of a country, state, company, or department your management is only as good as the people working with you. Your team members can make or break your future with their actions. When your legacy is in someone else’s hands, shouldn’t you do everything possible to insure a successful outcome? Here are some tips to get you started:

Clearly define expectations – People want to please their superiors. Providing clear expectations makes their job easier and keeps them on the right path. It also minimizes the damage if things go wrong.

Document and communicate expectations to everyone in the organization – Sharing the information with everyone creates a “checks and balances” environment. It is much harder to circumvent the rules when everyone knows them.

Be a good example – People believe what they see more than what they read or hear. Telling people about expectations and then doing something different is confusing. Don’t make rules that you are not willing to follow.

Create sharing opportunities – Waiting until there is a crisis to ask “Do you know anything about this?” is risky. Spend time every day listening to team members at all levels. This opens the door for them to share activities and events that may be unknown to you.

Use mistakes as learning opportunities (and warnings) – The right listening environment will bring mistakes to the forefront before they become a crisis. Use that opportunity to teach people how to improve and what happens if they don’t learn from the mistakes.

Always keep priorities in the right order – Your team members are not Secret Service Special Agents assigned to protect you. Their job is to protect the country, state, or company. The organization is bigger than any one person. If everyone does his or her job well (including you), you will be protected as the leader of the organization.

Eliminate eminent threats – There are always people with individual agendas that don’t support the wellness of the organization. Identify them, assess the situation, and remove them from their positions if they refuse to cooperate. Your organization can only be as good as the weakest link.

Be a leader – Don’t hide behind your team members. The mistakes they make are your responsibility. Creating an environment that rewards integrity and good initiative keeps mistakes from escalating into a crisis. Do it now.

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