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Expectations Drive Accountability


Udayakumar Nalinasekaren
Dec 21, 2010

In A ShellA team walks into trouble with eyes open. The team is full of well meaning people. The key questions to ask are 'How to navigate back to course?', 'What are some leadership traits that will accelerate course correction?', 'How to sustain the accountability of the team?'

Unexpected failures happen only because of mindless risktakes. Such a failure usually results in immediate loss of credibility. A sense of urgency to get back to course as soon as possible builds up and intensifies. There are many peering eyes that start watching over the shoulder much closely than anybody would want. Criticism (not always constructive) builds up. Suggestions on possible punitive action are aired. Pressure and stress continue to mount. Accountability starts diluting in the team. Brownian motion can set in quickly. All these stimulus are drivers for an adrenaline rush that will in turn drive reactive and emotional thinking.

First action for a leader is to make a pause and take a deep breath. If we continue to move with lost sense of direction, we are probably making things worse. The best leadership action here is to ignore all the above stimulus. Easy to talk but needs guts, right attitude and tremendous self confidence to execute.

Next best possible action is to wear an attitude of humility and candour. Any other position on leadership attitude (defense, ego, or shifting the blame) draws more negative stimulus that is not helpful in solving the problem at hand.

Third action is to understand the current position relative to plan and what led us here. This introspection needs deep listening in the first place. Asking why we got to where we are gets an answer. Convert that answer to another 'Why' question and think of an answer. Repeat the process at least five times. The truth usually starts to emerge. Listen to all the team members and other stakeholders for their views. Find the truth from amongst such introspection and feedback.

Next step is to make a conscious choice of two options. Option 1 is to get back to the last known good point in the original course and follow that originally charted course again. Option 2 is to chart a new course to the target destination.

Final step is to realize that the strengths that were deployed during the original course are not necessarily the ones that will take us back to course. Therefore it is important to create and give space for the new strengths to takeover.

The normal human reaction in a troubled situation is none of the above. The usual default reaction is to sense a panic attack and get consumed by it. Therefore a leader should boldly choose to be on a different normal in such situations. One easy way is to think of the positive opposite of every idea that naturally pops up in the mind and evaluate it's usefulness. For example if we want to impulsively rush to the next milestone and think of ways to complete the steps rapidly, we should also think of additional actions that we would have potentially forgotten and see the merits of executing and completing those as well. If we impulsively think of overworking the team to accelerate recovery, we should find reasons for sending some of them to rest and recharge.

Leadership expectations on an unusual and refreshing normal usually have the impact of sustaining or driving up the sense of accountability in any team.

Interestingly, the recovery steps articulated above are the same if we are commuting from point A to point B and get lost in an unknown location. We intutively follow the steps to get back to course. When leading a team, smart leaders see the parallel and adapt.


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