One of the hardest parts of leadership is getting people around you to take action. It is easy to get people to agree generally that things could be better, it is a vastly different conversation to look them each in the eyes and ask that they tell you directly how they will be taking action in their areas. I have opinions on refugees, politics, border controls, the need for hard work, the ways to educate children… but I don’t often follow these opinions up with clear action.
We (that is: we socially adapted human beings) are pretty poor when it comes to asking for commitment from others. In polite society it is considered rude to hold the attention on a person after they have given a vague answer and then ask them to clarify exactly what their commitment is. If you are the friend who does this, you might find that you are invited to less barbecues.
In leadership, it is the most important thing.
Leadership requires that you both share your vision in a way that people around you see why effort is required, and then that you look them in the eyes and make it clear that you now expect clear action from them… or there will be consequences.
The commitment process is not a natural human process – we instinctively shy away from forcing the other to say that they are making a formal commitment. Unfortunately, this means many conversations end with no commitments at all.
- It happens with friends – I often realise that I have assumptions about how the washing and cleaning will be shared with others when we share a holiday house… but it is I who have failed to be absolutely clear with the others about my expectations.
- It happens at work – a colleague and myself discuss a new article that we can co-write over a coffee and are both excited by the project. A month later and no words have been written… I had assumed he would be structuring the first draft, and he was waiting for me to share a first attempt.
As I return from 2 months away from formal work and away from my home city, one of the reflections I have is that I have a wonderful ability to get frustrated when others don’t do things that I expected them to do… but the closer I look at my own responsibility I realise that I don’t do a great job of articulating what it is that I expect.
So, 2 aims for myself:
- When I notice that a feeling of frustration is growing in me because of the behaviour of another, ask myself if I have done my best to explain why and what my expectation is. (Usual answer: No).
- Stop getting frustrated at other people.
A final story that came to my mind as I finish this post…
The Inevitable Outcome of the Dog and the Rugby Ball
2 days ago I was at a barbecue hosted by my good friends Florian and Rose.
They were “babysitting” a one year old dog, a rottweiler called Nike. She was a good dog who loved being at the center of the action. Another of the guests mentioned that they loved rugby… and I happened to have a rugby ball in the back of my car.
We took out the ball and passed it back and forth… suffice to say, within 5 minutes the ball had been burst by a big bite from Nike the dog.
My first reaction was annoyance… but in less than a second the thought came to my head “what type of idiot takes a rugby ball out of his car when an excited dog with a big mouth is at the barbecue!”. If I didn’t want the ball burst, I should have left it in the car. If I wanted to be frustrated about a burst ball – then throw it around with a rottweiler chasing it.
There was no possible good end to this particular game of rugby…
How often do I get into situations where there is no good end to the “game”?