We were having difficult conversations every day. I was told: “I’ll take you seriously if you’re still here in six weeks. Good luck.”
There were firings throughout the security organization on my third day; every misstep was scrutinized. The wearied look on every business leader’s face during every presentation, each conversation told the story… and my wife was packing our home in Virginia, preparing to move across the country.
In 2013, Brian Jantzen and I were building a new executive protection department as consultants at a Fortune 100 company. We diligently worked to repair the department’s reputation while simultaneously building our team, the people who would bear the burden of living out our new aspirational culture in front of the C-suite every day.
Me or we: the two fundamental perspectives on leadership. Leader versus boss. Manager versus leader. The simplest question to contemplate is: do you want people to follow you, or do you wish to be in charge?
People want to lead in an inspirational way. In a manner in which others would gladly follow. Over time, insecurity can creep in. The fight to remain in charge begins.
“What is your ideal employee or team member?” Those in leadership and management will likely answer in a similar fashion.
“Someone who is reliable, dependable. Someone who has integrity and puts the team first.”
If we get to the heart of the matter, the answer could be:
Someone who won’t disappoint me, let me down, make me look bad, cause turmoil within my team. Someone who won’t put me at risk…
I often wonder about the nature of humanity and how we might define it. Some believe people are vastly different from one another. Some believe that if you don’t share specific characteristics with another, you cannot begin to fathom their experiences, their feelings or their life’s journey. Understanding them is an impossibility…
I’ve had thousands of conversations with people from all corners of the world, while traveling across four continents, with both friends and adversaries. I’ve concluded that we can define humanity across all cultures and possibly all periods of time in the following way:
As humans, we all have lofty aspirations, big dreams and goals that we consistently fail to meet or accomplish. Universally, we fall short of our own hopes and expectations of ourselves.
There is a beauty in this. We all hope, want and try; yet we all disappoint… so why are we surprised and angered when this happens with our family, friends and colleagues?
Brian and I often discussed this dynamic and the need to design for disappointment. How do we empower and provide psychological safety to a team who will fail to model the brand we are building? When executives question the new culture we are promising, how will we provide accountability to them and continue to empower our team?
“Problems are opportunities for excellence. Someone does not always need to be at fault. We succeed and fail as a program. We are committed to the professional development of one another.”
Four sentences in our code of conduct would be our foundation, the mechanism of trust. This would inform our governance and post-incident review policies. This would be our North Star to ensure that the team existed as we.
In times like this, times of struggle, you must choose.
Me insulates ourselves from repercussions, preserving our role and position… for a time. As you follow the old adage and allow the “s*** to roll downhill,” you destroy the trust within your team. You reassure them that they can do better if they will just follow the plan, if they, if they, if they – the insecurity in security grows within them, as it has within you.
A collective anxiety sets in. They become afraid to do their job. Hope becomes their strategy. Hoping that nothing happens, hoping that no one will notice, hoping the blame lands on someone else. They need this job…
The unintended consequence of me, is the degradation of programmatic elements and soon costs begin to climb. Turnover is the most expensive thing in security. On-boarding new professionals too often steals time and productivity from seasoned members. They get tired and frustration builds. Inconsistency becomes the only constant and quality evaporates. Inconsistency sprawls in operations, with the client, in communication… feedback declines as your anxiety rises and… your time is drawing near.
We is a more difficult path to follow at the outset. It requires a leader who will not succumb to fear or anxiety. A leader who plans, thoughtfully develops and executes policy and strategy. A leader who embraces the tension that people are both their greatest asset and vulnerability and is happy to foster the promise within their people. A leader who recognizes the difference between honest mistakes and malicious intent. A leader who will not confuse them out of convenience or self-preservation.
When the pressure is high, the feedback is grim, the bosses are furious – will you then stand up for honest mistakes and honest failures? Will you say: “it’s unfortunate, but we will learn and be better because of the failure”? Failure is not a punishable event, only malice requires disciplinary action. While we holds great patience for mistakes, we divorces malicious intent in a flash.
We is a commitment to being the roof which covers the team. We sets expectations and allows the team to design and deliver. We ensures lessons are learned, programmatic edits are made and trust is built. We keeps the team dry as the storm rages. We inspires, because we stands with the team, believes in the team and absorbs risk on behalf of the team.
This is so important to understand because in the corporate environment, the more successful and prominent a team becomes, the more hate and discontent it attracts from other insecure teams and leaders.
Teams that enjoy calm within storms do amazing work and they look out for and uplift their leaders.
Finally, we creates strong, resilient and magnetic leaders. We creates a joyful environment, full of creativity, hope and aspiration. Cohesive teams – powered by grace and kindness. This joyful environment will fuel your talent pipeline and innovation.
With this outlook, are you ready to lead? What would need to change before you can shoulder this burden? Is this journey worth the struggle for you? Which will you embrace?
Leaders must choose their way. In the last article, I asked you to ponder: “who will I become?” To identify your North Stars. How does that fall in with me or we? It’s worth the reflection.
You can find Tim on LinkedIn here.
The next installment of Crossroads in leadership will be released on 5 July! To read the previous installment, click here.