The one question a business leader should never ask

on November 13, 2013 Leadership with 0 comments

The full weight of responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the captain of the ship. No matter the weather conditions, the dangers and the potential pitfalls, the captain of the ship must navigate the ship, and it’s crew and the cargo to smoother waters.

A business leader is much the same. As the word “leader” would imply, it is your job to make sure everyone and everything in your business is working together towards a common goal.

When the weather closes in, a business leader who casts around for someone to blame, and asks ‘who is responsible for this?’ is not creating a crew of motivated individuals. They are creating a culture of dis-ease – and while the job may get done faster and cheaper than ever before, the price paid by the team is high. Stress, ill health and ongoing impact on personal lives are common costs that don’t ever appear on the balance sheet.

A good leader will create an environment of inherent responsibility. They will never ask ‘who is responsible for this?’ They know who is responsible for every last aspect of the business. They are.

A good leader will ask questions such as:

1)   How can we fix this?
Using the word ‘we’ seems simple enough, but it has a big impact. No matter what happened, we, as a team, are going to work out a way to fix it. Using the word ‘you’ immediately apportions blame and ignites defensive behaviour. ‘We’ pulls heads together to work out solutions, with each person embracing some responsibility for the end result.

2)   Who would like to take charge of this?
By allowing a team member to step up and own a task or project, they have also embraced the responsibility for the end result. As a leader, it is your responsibility to make sure they are supported through the process so the same mistake doesn’t happen again.

3)   How can we improve our system to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
Again, the use of ‘we’ is vital. As a leader you may not be aware of every aspect of the issue, however, by creating an open forum, all parties are able to put forward ideas and solutions to create a better system. They are then able to ‘own’ the system and will feel more responsible, making sure their suggestions are solid and add to the result.

4)   What skills/processes/technologies do we need to improve?
Sometimes a project de-rails just because nobody was aware that there was a gap in the knowledge, or the technology or the skills required. Make sure these gaps are filled, whether that means training staff, upgrading hardware or software or re-imagining a process.

Supporting your team to reach higher levels of accountability and performance is a prerequisite for today’s respected and influential business leaders. Follow their lead and be responsible.

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