We are wired to flinch. To duck away from perceived danger. To protect ourselves.
In moderation, this natural inclination can save our lives. When combined with an unhealthy dose of fear, lack of self-confidence and self-preservation, it can wreak havoc in our lives.
A couple of years ago, my youngest daughter went through a period of time where she was deathly afraid of the dark. Something was always in the closet, under the bed, or around the corner, and it was inevitably going to get her.
The fear consumed her and for a short period of time, the perception of the problem precluded her from fixing the problem. She was too scared to look in the closet, under the bed, or around the corner to validate her concern. What she projected became reality and she was unable to see that the real problem was in her head.
As leaders, we do this all of the time. We perceive the problem as something external and our self-protection mechanism often prevents us from seeing the truth for what it is.
Here’s a great example.
Last quarter we missed our bookings target. When asked why by our board, I responded with several, very logical, reasons.
- We had beaten our first quarter target by 2x. We pulled sales forward that would have otherwise closed in the quarter.
- Several opportunities had “slid right” and had been delayed until the next quarter.
- We were too focused on delivering against our first quarter success to bring in new clients.
- Our focus on delighting our clients and account growth led to a dip in the new clients.
I missed an opportunity. Instead of listing external factors, excuses, or where others had let me down, I should have interrogated my own actions.
What did I, as the leader, do that led to this result?
The one—and only one—thing that you have absolute control over is your own actions. Strong leaders take ownership of their results. They don’t deflect a miss, create excuses, or point to external factors. They ask themselves the hard question – how was I responsible? What could I have done? What will I do differently next time? How can I be a better leader?