Leadership Tip

I remember, when I was 10 year old, my dad and I made to the corner store near our house in India. As we stood in the queue waiting for our turn, my dad saw the shopkeeper use unethical weighing method to cheat the customer ahead of us- an old lady. As was my dad’s nature he jumped right in and gave the shop owner a piece of his mind and asked him to be fair. Needless to say the shopkeeper was defensive and an argument ensued.

As they argued, I grew more and more uncomfortable. Why did he have to say anything when it was not even his purchase that was affected? Some of my neighborhood friends were in the store. I was embarrassed that my dad was creating a ruckus for no reason. So as my dad and the shopkeeper went back and forth, I quietly slipped away and went back home. Later, when my dad came home he quizzed me. “Why did you leave the store?”. I remained silent. “You should always stand by your family.” That’s all he said.

I can’t say that I have followed his advice 100% of the time. Yet, his message stayed with me. In the business world I look at my team as my “family”. I attribute many High Performance Teams I have been fortunate enough to create and lead, to my focus on standing by them even when I felt they were wrong or even when I felt embarrassed by their actions.

The obvious challenge to the notion of standing by your team, is that it can get you into trouble. Shouldn’t a team member’s “mistake” call for their head? Shouldn’t you as a leader, distance yourself, chastise them or make an example out of them? The answer, I am sure is unique for each leader, for each “mistake”, its gravity, its implications, its repetitive nature etc.

My own experience is that sometimes, a judicious non-action or support shown for team member even when they made a mistake can go a long way. It can:

  • Create a loyal team member. Many of them have gone out of their way for me later on, to justify the faith shown in them.
  • Encourage an open environment where issues are highlighted and discussed so they can be corrected, instead of being swept under the rug.
  • Send the signal to the rest of the team that calculated risks and occasional mistakes that may stem from it are OK. Fear gets replaced with innovation
  • Make you a better leader by being more open-minded. A lot of their “mistakes” may in-fact just be difference of perception on your part.

Just like any other leadership challenge, the answer is not simple. It’s not black and white. It’s a balancing act between too much and too little. Those who can master the ability to do what’s right for any particular situation are destined to be great leaders.