It’s Valentine’s Day so that means it’s time for our annual analogy about the similarities between businesses and personal relationships. Over the years, we have written about how hiring is like dating; how ending an employee relationship can be like breaking up; how performance reviews are like couples who evaluate their relationship every year on their anniversary. This year is no different. This year it’s that famous or should we say, infamous, phrase, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Only in this blog, that’s really true. In any successful relationship, each partner will spend as much time examing their own behavior and expectations as they do their partner’s. They will question whether they’re being a good partner before laying blame at their partner’s feet. In an organization, it’s the leader who must own their problems first.
In a relationship, if you’re compiling a list of your partner’s failings, you may be completely missing ways that you’re being judgmental, unsupportive, and blind to your own not-so pleasant tendencies. We all have distortions about ourselves. Preserving those distortions and piling the blame on your partner portends a relationship that’s going to be miserable until it reaches an ugly end.
Similarly, in the workplace, if you are complaining about your customers, employees, vendors, the government, or anyone else without first looking to see what you’re contributing to the problem, you can pretty well bet you’re missing one of the biggest sources of the problem: you. You’re also modeling unproductive behavior that will spread throughout your culture and pretty much guarantee that nothing is going to get any better anytime soon.
Facing The Truth
I was reminded of this when I had coffee recently with business coach Chris Gay of Focal Point. He told me about a meeting with one of his clients who was diving headfirst into complaint land.
He told the client a story about a business owner who was grousing that his organization wasn’t where he wanted it to be: the employees were bad; the vendors were bad; the economy was bad. At this point, Chris said, “I leaned toward that client and said, ‘That’s amazing. Everything around you is bad, but you have nothing to do with that. None of it is because of you.”
That’s a pretty bold statement to make to client and it’s what makes Chris good at what he does. He is good because he is willing to be honest and direct with his clients. I, too, have had situations where a leader wanted to fire a bunch of employees, or get coaching for their team but not themselves, thinking everything would be fine if other people were just better at their jobs. And I could see where the problem really lay. For a leader, the first question should always be “Am I doing my job to the best of my ability? Where do I need to get better? Where do I need to ask for honest feedback and be prepared to respond to it?”
After that conversation with Chris, I decide to do some reflection. I thoroughly enjoy what I do and love my associates and clients. But some months are better than others; some clients are more challenging than others; sometimes things outside any of our control create bumps in the road. Was I handling those like the leader who was responsible for steering our course, or blaming others?
So this year I’m going to make sure I look in the mirror first. Difficult client interaction? What did I contribute? Misunderstanding with an employee? What was my role? Am I willing to hear feedback? Am I willing to be edited or corrected?
It’s easy to see in others and easy to not see in ourselves. We recognize that an organization’s success rides heavily on whether the leaders are accountable and take ownership for their own behavior. We know that when you’re asking everyone around you to change, it’s because there’s something internal that needs to change first.
So this Valentine’s Day, that’s my commitment: I’m going to spend 2019 making sure I commit time and energy to leadership self improvement and I encourage you to consider it as well.