I was talking with the head of a government agency a few weeks ago. He was telling me that his teams have no sense of accountability. He said, “they are expert at finger pointing and always have a good story about why commitments are not met.” He asked if I could help.
Over the next week, I read the organization’s internal documents that covered everything from their purpose and this year’s goals, to how they planned to promote their organization to the public. The problem they were facing jumped right off the pages I was reading. The public story they were creating about who they were is in conflict with how they privately view themselves.
This is common in so many areas of our life. I want you to see me in what I feel is the most positive light. Generally, this means that I appear to be nearly perfect. I am extremely competent. I handle my commitments impeccably, and the people in my organization work perfectly together.
I understand why it’s appealing to portray this picture. The problem is that we know this type of impeccable behavior is rare, and, anyway, it isn’t who we are. Our hopeful self-deception creates expectations we can’t fulfill, and surprise when we don’t meet our goals.
I also noticed when talking with this leader their sense of helplessness. It was clear this was linked to a disparity of perceptions. The results is he feels overwhelmed and sees no way out of his current situation. He confided that the way to solve the organizations problems with more resources, particularly staffing.
The problem isn’t a lack of resources, it’s unresolved conflicts within the leader. Their attachment to looking good has created an “Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome”. No one tells them the truth out of fear of retribution, and the problems compound. The road ahead isn’t pretty for this leader or his organization.
What can they (or you or I for that matter) do when are in the middle of this kind of mess? Most let a crisis sweep over them. This requires truth telling, and usually the leader is out of work. This is not necessary.
Every day, we can have as our top priority learning what’s really happening in our world. This means putting aside the need to be right, and proactively listening without prejudice. This takes practice, whether you are listening to customers or colleagues, those who work for you or your family. Everyone can offer something that gives us a glimpse of ourselves and the world around us we can’t see. So go ahead, allow the mirrors to show the truth within.