Several years ago while working with a fabulous consultant, we were discussing the common struggles each of us were experiencing with our point of contact on a particular project. The challenge was that the direction of the project kept changing and we were stuck in the land of invention in lieu of execution.
This consultant summed up the challenge perfectly. He said, “The problem is that he’s not a compass, he’s a weathervane.”
Yup. He was a weathervane. He would turn whichever way the wind was blowing (read as: “whatever mood his boss was in that day”).
Flexibility has its benefits. The ability to adapt to change is not only a sign of life, it’s a determining factor of a company’s survival. But please, don’t confuse flexibility with being a weathervane. When was the last time you saw a weathervane flopping around in the wind? They don’t bend. Weathervanes are rigid yet change direction under the slightest amount of pressure.
Compasses, on the other hand, are aligned to a direction and continue to remind us where due north is. They keep us on course, acting as a reliable north star that doesn’t waver in the breeze and can withstand the pressure of a hurricane. Compasses hold steady – a constant reminder of where we need to go.
Since that time, I’ve encountered leaders of both the weathervane and compass persuasion in bulk.
Be the Compass for Your Organization
Recently, I was teaching a Coaching for Performance course to a group of seasoned leaders in a large organization here in Charlotte. Everyone agreed that the skills they developed over the course of the day would change the way they thought about interacting with their employees. But one gentleman asked a question that kept cropping up in every class we led with this company, “So, how are we supposed to do this with our employees if our bosses aren’t doing it with us?”
After all, leaders eat last, but should go first, right?
Here’s what we encounter time after time after time in the work that we do with first time and mid-level managers. They say, “I agree that leaders should treat people this way.” “Gosh this make so much sense!” “This changes everything about how I do things with my team.”
AND YET… we still hear variations of the above, “So, how are we supposed to do this with our employees if our bosses aren’t doing it with us?”
Here’s the response we give every single time: “Can we all agree that leaders should go first?” (Insert resounding “YES!”, with a hint of “That’s what WE are telling YOU!”)
Wait for it…
Wait for it…
“Are YOU not leaders?”
Sure, you need buy in from your boss for a bunch of things, but NOT to be a good leader. Stop waiting for everyone else to do it, because they are all waiting for you to do it.
In the over-cliché yet still inspirational words of Gandhi, “Be the light you want to see in the world”. You are the only person you can control. Leadership is the art of influence successfully executed.
Stop flopping around in the breeze, waiting for your boss to tell you how to give feedback to your team respectfully, or how to check in with employees instead of sandbagging problems until performance review time, or how to address conflict on the team instead of letting it fester, or how to ask for feedback from your colleagues. If that is the kind of leader you want to be, then go be it.
And if your company just won’t have it? Run. Run fast. And take everyone you care about with you.
If you are a leader – go lead. After all, isn’t it what your company is paying you to do? #beacompass