Crossroad: A Leadership Lesson Learned

“A leader is not an administrator who loves to run others, but someone who carries water for his people so that they can get on with their jobs”
–Robert Townsend



In my last blog post (A Weakness Revealed) I ended with a note that I would seek some outside help for methods to validate our approach and would come up with a framework for one of my team members who is slowly disengaging from my team’s task.  Armed with an approach I charged forward and almost caused a disaster as a leader.  Here is what happened.

I met with an outside official and asked for help on the validation effort.  She came armed with a bunch of data which, after she and I looked through and discussed it, led to two ideas that I felt would offer the validation path for us.  One of the ideas appeared to me to be directly related to my disengaging team member’s concern.  I melded the two ideas into a proposal and offered it to the team yesterday afternoon, saying that this approach provides the way for us to validate our data and lead us towards a recommendation.  One of my other team members looked at it and immediately called BS on one of the two ideas – the one that concerned my disengaging team member the most.  I attempted to defend the idea under attack and argued that it was supported by the regulations and materials given to me that morning.

I was at a leadership crossroad.  Was it my role to defend my freshly-concocted proposal, or was it to encourage alternative ideas?  When I realized the choices before me, I stopped.

My team agreed that the the one idea I offered was not a proper discriminator given the other information we had at hand, especially from our recent field trip to the nuclear power plant.  After further conversation, I apologized to the team and said that I had embraced eagerly the one idea as a way of “throwing the disengaging team member a bone” and that I would hand over the data to the team, allow them to review the data in detail, and come forward with their own ideas.  Another of my team members approach me offline and said that he and another team member would work on the data, would show it to individual team members to get early feedback, then bring it to the whole team.  That demonstrated excellent leadership in my mind, and I thank him and told him so.

What did I learn here? Clearly, it is not my role as leader to come up with all the right choices.  My role is in this case is to expand possibilities and empower the team to make the best decisions possible.  This situation served as a good reminder to me, and I won’t forget it.

Crossroad: A Leadership Lesson Learned