In recent years I have had great joy watching successful sporting coaches of young teams who have been able to extract positives from the worst of situations simply because they have an eye on the long term development of their people. I have listened intently to them deal with media after a team loss as they explain that the players will learn from the experience. I have rarely heard them proportioning blame on an individual or belittling or humiliating a player who was well and truly beaten by their opponent on the day. I have marvelled at their ability to speak about how the players were ‘disappointed in themselves’ because they were are unable to finish off their opponents and win the game. And rarely has that successful modern coach lost their cool at probing media questions that would have angered the best of us. They have stood their ground but not exploded. I am becoming more sure modern leadership is not only about self control but also perspective. Perspective based on a plan that focuses on team and individual development as a lever to attaining success.
A long way from sporting fields a young lawyer is called to the Managing Partner’s office. A document containing privileged information has been sent from her email to the wrong address. ‘You understand that you have embarrassed the organisation don’t you?’ He bellows. ‘Yes I do’ she replies with head in hands. ‘As per your employment agreement I will give you a formal warning so feel free to bring a witness at 10am tomorrow morning’ he explains handing her a draft of the written warning, ‘Here?’ she asks in relation to the location of the meeting. ‘Where do you think?’ he retorts then mutters, ‘the ladies toilets?’.
Looking dispirited the young lawyer leaves the office. The experience leaves her paralysed unable to continue in her role at the law firm from which she resigns and escapes to study a masters degree in International Business while taking a part time internship at a major chemical manufacturing firm. After six months she wins a high achiever award and is placed on the organisations international high performance program, her ten year goal is to be CEO of an exploration company. She regards the experience at the law firm as ‘a lost opportunity for them and a turning point for herself’. The Managing Partner continues in his role.
Committing to the development of people is an essential part of leadership because leadership is very much a part of ‘future thinking’. Throughout the period of development people will make mistakes. It is just how it is. People who are learning new things; who are trying new things will sometimes get it wrong. The trick for any manager with an eye on the future is to keep the impact of mistakes in perspective. Furthermore , when serious mistakes are made, to get to the bottom of that mistake. So often mistakes are partly the result of a gap in the individuals development plan and nothing to do with capacity.
I have often found the moment of dealing with a mistake as an opportunity in building trusting relationships with people. Being patient, having the ‘we’ attitude as opposed to blaming and being able to say you trust an individual’s capacity after it has ‘gone wrong’. It can be one of the most empowering experiences if you sincerely believe in a staff member’s potential to say ‘….I still have a lot of trust in you.’
Ultimately for managers, the key factor is to think like a coach. As coaches we are in the business of managing potential ability to real ability.