Leadership is NOT Dodgeball

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leadership today seems to be all too often confused with playing a game of dodgeball. It’s as if many leaders show-up for work each day with a freshly applied coat of Teflon, ready to duck and dodge anything that comes their way. Let me be clear – I appreciate savvy and finesse as much as the next person, but not as a substitute for courage. We have too many people in leadership positions who can’t or won’t accept responsibility for anything. Put simply, leadership is about accountability, and not only being willing to take the hit, but also being capable of surviving the hit. Leadership IS ownership…

If your immediate response to a problem is to spin, deflect, or blame-shift, then you’ve got a lot to learn about leadership. Those whom you lead are not looking for you to step back or step aside from issues, they’re looking for you to step-up and hit issues head on. The fastest way to lose respect as a leader is to focus on optics over ethics. If you’re more concerned about political fallout than solving the problem you have failed as a leader. Even though responsibility for decisions defaults to the leader, responsibility should be a thing of design, not default. It should be readily accepted and not easily denied – this is real leadership.

The entire world seems to be crying out for real leadership right now. Not leaders in title, but leaders in action. Whether in the boardroom, political arena, or on the front lines, leadership is far more than holding press conferences, giving speeches, and presiding over meetings and committees. Leadership is owning the responsibility for getting things done or failing to do so. Remember, specificity of thought and deed shatters the comfort and safety sought by those who prefer to remain in the shadows of vague rhetoric.

Let’s look at this another way – when was the last time you held a leader in high regard who dodged the issue, didn’t do the right thing, failed to accept responsibility, took credit for another person’s achievements, or blamed someone else for their mistakes? My guess is that your answer, as it should be, is never. While people will take issue with arrogance or ignorance, they will usually accept an honest mistake – especially where sincere contrition and remorse exist.

Here’s the thing – sane people don’t expect perfection from leaders, but they do expect leaders to be transparent and accountable. Accepting responsibility for your actions, or the actions of your team makes you honorable, and trustworthy – it also humanizes you. People don’t want the talking head of a politician for a leader, they want someone they can connect to, and relate with. They not only want someone they trust, but someone who trusts them as well.

If you take one thing away from today’s post, it should be this: leadership isn’t about you, your ego, your pride, or your personal ambition – it’s about caring for and serving those you lead, while accomplishing the mission at hand. Leadership has very little to do with the leader, and everything to do with those being led.

I knew a great football coach who used to say “Step-up and take the hit or get off the field.” My sentiments exactly. Thoughts?