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My Latest Lesson in Leadership

#cohesion #grit #highperformance #leadership #newleaders #strategy May 02, 2023

This weekend I was coaching a soccer game in the semi-pro league here in Canada. It’s a relatively new league, and I’m pleased at how they are trying to raise the level of professionalism for women’s soccer here in Canada. Along with raising the competitive level and profile of the women’s game, there come lots of rules and polices to adhere to. Failure to follow them can result in hefty fines. Let’s just say, after this weekend, I will be auctioning off one of my kidneys to pay for all of the lessons we have now learned. 

It was a debacle of leadership.

Long story short, we arrived to our away match without the prescribed color of jerseys. The equipment manager did not bring the uniforms to the game. With only 45 mins until game time, we were in a pickle.  Forgetting the uniforms and having to scramble was a problem, but that wasn’t the debacle of leadership.  That rested squarely on my own shoulders. I found myself frantically trying to understand how we got to this problem during the crisis instead of focusing on solving the problem.

Trying to focus on the, ‘How did we get here?’ when you are in the middle of a crisis leads to distraction and emotional contagion that is unproductive. 

Focus on the solution during a crisis.

One of the ways I test myself on whether I engaged in good leadership or not is to ask myself this question, ‘If I had to do it again, would I do it the same way?’ It is in these quiet moments after the crisis when I reflect and the learning occurs. If, later, I doubt my choices and feel regret, I have presented to myself a teachable moment—a time to carefully consider what I would change about my tactics as a result of my reflections.

Here are three things that, if I had to do it again, I would do differently:

  1. Bring the team in, right from the start, with an acknowledgement of the problem, taking full ownership and responsibility for it right from the beginning. As a leader of the team, whether the equipment manager forgot the uniforms or not, it’s ultimately my responsibility to make sure we have what we need and are ready for the match.
  2. Do a better job of the onboarding process. I will take the time now to move beyond a verbal explanation of the job and create a written description with a check list including every task. As the leader, my responsibility is to make sure everyone on the team has clarity of roles and responsibilities. It’s also my responsibility to make sure there is verbal confirmation to ensure alignment.
  3. Engage the team, or at the very least the leadership group, in the solution-finding phase. When solving an urgent problem, one can sometimes be tempted to act quickly and decisively. But this can lead to missing some viable options or some avoidable pitfalls of a potential solution. By getting folks involved in the solution-finding phase early, we open up the opportunity for team members to express their own accountability and contribute to finding a way forward instead of getting stuck in the shame of an error.

I have good news to report: we ended up getting the win. The team was able to make the adjustments and stay locked in, but it was a victory that was tempered with frustration. I want to remind folks that when any new team forms, there is a period of what I refer to as clunkiness as we try out roles and responsibilities. It is expected. How we move through this phase is instrumental in determining whether we become a high performing team. Conflict, dropped balls, poor communication and lack of role clarity are all part of the early process of building a winning culture. 

The leaders that are willing to stick it out, have the uncomfortable conversations, raise a hand of accountability and extend grace to others and themselves are the ones who continually rise to the top. 

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