Stepping Up is Not for Wimps

"Stepping up" as a leader can be hard going.  We know it is important to do, but having the guts is another story.

 We all probably have a certain level of confidence and courage when the waters are calm, but when things gets rough, many leaders struggle to muster up the courage to say what really needs to be said.

In a recent client situation, I came across a well-established, well regarded, seasoned leader.  By all accounts as far as I could tell he had the credibility and stature to step up even to his superiors about most issues, even his view of why and how the culture had become unhealthy and unproductive. He talked openly with me about the blame game, the lack of trust, and how territorialism was hurting customers and costing the firm.

If what he said was true about the place, it was certainly not the kind of environment I could work in for any extended period of time.  While he was visibly frustrated, he also shared many sound ideas about what was required to turn things around – including behaviors of senior level people.

Yet when I asked him why he wasn’t willing to step up and share his views with his boss or others in a position of influence, he said that he had simply lost his zeal and made a conscious choice just to withdraw and focus on doing his job and flying under the radar.  At the core, I think he was afraid of speaking out for fear of losing his job in a market that he knew was not great.

I thought about our conversation for several days.  On the one hand I felt like he was a wimp and that, it was his fiduciary responsibility as a leader to do what he could to make things better – not just for himself but for those around him.  On the other hand I could understand how he would feel deflated after what he felt were many failed attempts.

Most of all though, I was saddened for him and his organization because you’ve got to bet that he dreads waking up every morning and going to work.  You’ve got to know that the organization is not getting the best out of him anymore– and that means they are paying the price in some form or another.  A missed opportunity for everyone.

What about you?

  • Do you have the guts to step up?  If not, why not?
  • What do you think could be done better in your sphere of responsibility, and who should that be shared with?
  • How can you position your thoughts or ideas in a way that will open up the dialogue and not get rejected?
  • Have you created a trusting environment such that your team will step up?
  • What actions can you take to help your staff get more comfortable to step up?


- Michele Porterfield -

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