Articles

Courage 101 for Leaders

July 24, 2017 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

The work of leading is not for the faint-hearted. To build an exceptional leadership team and lead that team in achieving the objectives of the organization requires hard work, dedication and courage.

Courage is defined by Legitimate Leadership as the giving of self, requiring the leader to suspend his self-interest in favour of the interests of the employee.

What does this look like? Here are three scenarios for you to solve …


Scenario 1:   Your employee is responsible for delivering a report to head office (HO) by a certain date. The employee misses the deadline after a crisis develops with a customer.  In the midst of the crisis, the HO representative phones you to complain that your employee did not submit the report.  You:
      1. Apologise that your employee neglected her duty and offer to do it yourself.
      2. Apologise that your employee neglected her duty and tell the HO representative to send all requests to you in future so you can make sure the employee attends to it.
      3. Ask the HO representative what the purpose of the report is. You enquire whether the report is essential at this time. You explain that the employee must attend to the customer crisis at this point. You advise the HO representative to contact the employee to negotiate an alternative submission date. You say nothing to the employee.
      4. Explain that the employee has been attending to a customer crisis. You advise the HO representative to contact the employee to negotiate an alternative submission date. You discuss with your employee, privately, how the task can be completed in the midst of the crisis, and recommend to the employee to contact HO and negotiate an appropriate solution.

Scenario 2:   The CEO announces that he will be visiting one of your call centers.  You immediately contact the call center manager and tell him when the visit will occur and that you will expect everything to be in perfect order when the CEO arrives.  You:
      1. Arrive just before the CEO does. You conduct a tour of the call center, while the call center manager follows, during which you apologize repeatedly to the CEO for various things that are out of order and assure the CEO that “heads will roll!”
      2. Arrive just before the CEO does. You conduct a tour of the call center, without the call center manager, and proudly show off the well-run call center. You depart with the CEO.
      3. Visit the call center a few days before the CEO visits and meet with the managers of the call center. You provide the team with feedback on your experience of the call center. You plan the presentation of the call center to the CEO by the team. On the day of the visit, you walk with the CEO, while the call center manager and team show the CEO around. When the CEO departs you sit down with your team to discuss what went well and opportunities for improvement.

Scenario 3:  The business unit you are leading is struggling to meet its targets.  Part of the problem is that vacancies in your area are not being filled promptly.   The centralized HR department manages the recruitment process.  You feel frustrated, but you are at their mercy.  You:
      1. Phone a labour broker and appoint temporary employees.
      2. Complain to your superior. You get all existing employees to work overtime.
      3. Determine exactly what positions need to be filled. You arrange a meeting with the responsible parties at HR, during which you explain the recruitment requirements of your business unit. During the meeting, you negotiate with the HR representatives the timelines and process for recruitment, a regular feedback cycle, and confirm who is responsible for each step.

Solutions:

Scenario 1:  Options 4 indicates that you support your employee by confirming that circumstances have got in the way of timely completion of the report. You however remain willing to ensure the task is completed. You do not interfere in the line of communication, which would discredit your employee. You do address with your employee the need to complete the task and re-establish accountability.

 

Scenario 2:  Option 3 ensures that your team is well prepared. They remain accountable as they lead the tour of the call center. They receive compliments directly from the CEO. After the tour, you provide constructive feedback on opportunities for improvement and/or recognition for a job well done. It takes courage to give your team the opportunity to interact directly with your superior. By being generous with your time and praise your team will grow in skill and confidence.

 

Scenario 3:  Option 3 leads to a constructive conversation with the support department employees, where expectations are clarified and all parties understand their accountability.

Courage means:

      1. You do not avoid the issue. You confront the problem and develop a solution.
      2. You do not make excuses for your employee. You ensure that the employee understands her deliverables and accepts responsibility.
      3. You do not undermine your employee by taking over the work or implementing more controls. You clarify expectations and support your employee in the face of unreasonable demands.
      4. Leaders give employees constructive and useful feedback to facilitate their growth.
      5. Leaders do not use their employees as scapegoats.
      6. You do not need to be the star of the show. Courageous leaders let their employees shine!
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