02 May, 2012

Real Leaders - Take the Blame and Give the Credit

Radhakrishnan Chettour

It's hard to hold a team together when mistakes happen. The temptation to point fingers may be hard to resist. Read how real leaders beat the blame game.

Good leaders take more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit. Unfortunately, most leaders take more than their share of the credit and less than their share of the blame. They are not respected. When errors do occur, are you ready to support heroic efforts even in the face of failure?

After only two weeks on the job of Data Manager, Ramu had made a critical error that took the school computer system down. Coffee time to discuss performance of students with the parents has scheduled for the next day. He went to his Academic Supervisor (AS) immediately and said, "I think I just made a big mistake." AS replied, "I'm sure it is not as big as you think it is." He confided, "I think it could be bigger."

AS’s eyes got large as Ramu described the system crash and his lack of a data backup of students. In the midst of problem solving, his boss entered in low-brain function, that sub-cortical reptilian area that runs on more emotion than intellect. For fifteen minutes AS might have shouted at for Ramu's mistake. But he went on a silent mode.

Ramu was sure he was history. All Ramu could think of was at least his resume was current; he wouldn't even have to admit that he had ever worked at this school!

AS took the heat for Ramu's mistake. Not once had he even mentioned his name. It would have been tempting. All he would have had to do was to point his finger at Abhi and say, "There HE is. He's new, and he's defective!"

After the Principal ran out of steam, she said, "This shouldn't have even happened!" Ramu's AS replied, "It did, and I take full responsibility. This is my department. But every minute we are spending here means we are that much later in getting the system back up." The Principal left the room, leaving Ramu alone with his AS. AS did not look at him. Instead, he stared at the door, closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. He opened his eyes, a smile formed on his lips, he looked at him and said, "Don't do that again."

He all but fell over his own words of apology. He stopped him, "I think you are going to remember the importance of backup. And if this continues to be a problem, we will have a different kind of conversation. But you took responsibility for your mistake. Most of the time, I have to search to find them. I respect what you did. You're the kind of person I want working on my team. Now, I'm going to need your help to get this system back online at the earliest to avoid an embarrassment tomorrow for the coffee time with parents."

What happened after this conversation was the real leadership mantra for all leaders. The techno-savvy AS accompanied Ramu to the data room and started working with Ramu till late night to restore the data lost. Finally, they could finish the work and next day’s coffee time became a great success.

At the end of the day Ramu went to the AS’s office to apologies for the mistake. But before he could apologies, the AS stood up from his seat and thanked him for working beyond duty time and even appreciated his computer skills and ability to deal with emergency situations. Ramu was really surprised and thanked God.

Weeks, months and year’s went on, Ramu continued serving the school with the same boss. One day one of his colleague asked him, why does you are so sincere to that person? Ramu replied him by narrating the incident that had happened after two weeks of his joining the school and asked him to look at his business card and said, "You can't see it, but every day I write in invisible ink - 'SLAVE.' I would do anything for that AS!"

Leadership may not be as complicated as we make it. The late Bear Bryant, the great football coach, shared the same truth Ramu's boss lived when he said: "I'm just a plow-hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm down the others, until finally they've got one heartbeat together, a team. There's just three things I'd ever say: If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That's all it takes to get people to win football games for you." Those are wise words on leadership no matter what kind of team you lead.

For your success and glory!

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