How to Improve Real-World Leadership Practice
Engendering & Embedding Engagement for a High-Performance Culture

Truth, Trust & True Leadership

Blame 56142883_s“At any level of management, you took the job knowing that the role put you in charge and on the hot seat for every success and failure on the team — no exceptions.” Those words from Liz Ryan pack a powerful punch and certainly grabbed my attention. I don’t know whether you will agree or not, and in any case you need to read the whole article “Stop Blaming Your Employees for Your Leadership Mistakes” to appreciate all the lady is saying. I do hope, however, that you will agree it is food for thought.

That is definitely the case with her later line that “If you blame people for your stumbles, you won’t see your own part in the incident.” This had me wondering whether a failure to understand this is perhaps the root cause of the science-practitioner gap in leadership that I described in my last blog.  With trust increasingly becoming a major topic in management and leadership circles this is definitely a question worth following up.  

Trust only flourishes where people tell the truth. Ryan recognises this and suggests that managers need to tell the truth more, and takes up the cudgels by opining that, “In the western management tradition, there is no need for managers to tell the truth about the ‘sticky issues’ … since the workplace is populated by humans.” With ‘sticky issues’ basically meaning ‘human topics’, she seems to consider that managers have convinced themselves that they do not need to talk about them. Unfortunately the only reason she offers for this is implicit in the phrase “populated by humans”, as if to suggest that our common humanity makes it redundant. I am not sure this enough.


Similarly, I think her examples also fall short. You would find it hard to disagree with the point that being honest is essential for trust between colleagues, and to create effective teamwork. It is when she suggests that it is also your duty to speak the truth to those higher-up that she is perhaps ambiguous and a little disingenuous. She writes. “Your employees found the strength to tell you the truth and now you have to find the strength to tell your leaders the truth as well.”  Ryan describes this as, “your duty to your leaders, customers and shareholders.” Given the title of her article, the omission of employees from that list is surprising and regrettable.

At the very least, honesty from your employees demands reciprocity. If you do not act or, just as importantly, are not seen to act upon what your employees tell you, you cannot expect them to tell you the truth. You will end up with an environment that is completely self-delusional, counter-productive and potentially disastrous. I experienced this personally when I was responsible for delivering a growth budget for a financial services company. After empirically proving that the foundations for growth targets did not exist and demonstrated the opposite, I was not only ignored, but dismissed. Two years later the company went bankrupt. The Deepwater Horizons disaster provides a similar and better known example.

800px-Deepwater_HorizonConsequently, I think Ryan has pulled her punches. With her headline suggesting that you are blaming your employees for your leadership mistakes you might feel differently. But, until you understand that the buck stops with you as the leader, you are blaming them. Only when you recognise and accept that, “You are on the hot seat for every success and failure on the team — no exceptions,” will you rise to the challenge and be a true leader. Then you will understand that, when productivity isn't all you want, you are to blame. And, when you understand that, you will truly understand why ‘Every Individual Matters.’


If you like what you have read contact me today for a free 30 minute conversation about how my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model can provide the catalyst to help you create an organisational culture of ‘Love at Work’ : one where everyone cares and the business becomes our business, so embracing change and transforming – and sustaining – organisational performance.


Bay Jordan

Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organisational culture model that helps transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement” and, more recently, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped.


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