#28daysofwriting What can you learn about becoming a good leader from observing not so good leadership?

It rained last night. It rained the night before. Rained is probably not a descriptive enough term, bucketed, poured cats and dogs may be better descriptors. Whilst this may be great for the garden it plays havoc with weekend sport.  Especially when the days are clear but the sky opens up all night. My kids play baseball. They play or train 6 days a week and on Sunday Mr 13’s game begins at 8.30am. We have to be at the ground by 7.45 for warm up … on a Sunday.  I know this does not read like a post about leadership but bear with me.

They play on a reclaimed swamp. It does not drain well. I knew last night that baseball would be called off but when my alarm went off at 6.30 and I checked the council website, the baseball website and the Facebook page, there was no indication that grounds were closed. I turned the radio on (we’re regional so they do sports cancellations) and nothing was announced.  I kept checking all social media outlets but alas no announcement.

As I pulled up at the ground, I was informed that the game had been cancelled. The committee had arrived at 6.30am and sort of made the decision at 7.00am but then changed their mind, then made the final decision at 7.30 but did not let anyone know. Not surprisingly there were a few disgruntled sleep deprived parents who expressed their frustrations at not being informed before arriving at the ground. The team who travel an hour from home were particularly disgruntled. This was not the first lack of communication or protracted decision making. Parents were already frustrated. The parents pointed out to the committee all the ways in which they could have communicated their decision. The committee then proceeded to make excuses and argue with the disgruntled parents.

Which brings me to leadership. After venting (yes, I was one of those disgruntled, sleep deprived parents), calming down and thinking, I reflected on why I was frustrated and the lack of leadership displayed. I thought about the excellent leaders I have worked with in the past and those I currently work with now and how they avoid situations like this. So here are my take aways from today.

  1. Make a decision and make it quick. If you need to take it to a committee, lead the discussion, seek the opinions of others and then make a decision in a timely fashion.  Hand wringing and hypothesising are not going to help.
  2. Communicate this decision in as may ways possible. In the era of social media, smart phones and the internet it is very easy to reach a large number of people in a short period of time. And don’t rely on one avenue for communication. Use them all.
  3. Have systems in place for issues or road blocks that are likely to occur AND USE THEM. This way there is not need for hand wringing and vacillating. Everyone knows what to do and how to do it.
  4. Be accountable. When things go wrong, take responsibility for them and apologise for any inconvenience caused. Arguing and making excuses with those impacted is only going to antagonise the situation.
  5. Don’t engage with people when they are upset. When things don’t go to plan, people get upset. Listen to their frustration, empathise with them, think about how you could avoid the frustration in the future, learn from it. Don’t try to explain why you are right and they are wrong. It only makes people more frustrated because they feel they have not been heard and they honestly believe (as you do) that they are right and you are wrong.
  6. Learn from your mistakes. Make a plan for next time. Create better systems. Find better ways to communicate.
  7. Never, ever, ever reply with “if you think you could do a better job …” Self explanatory really.

When things go awry, people will always be upset and everyone has an opinion on how things should be done. Good leaders try to avoid these situations by making decisions and acting on them. They are then accountable for those decisions. I am fortunate that this is the environment I work in. I can see what went wrong this morning because I have watched great leaders work. It is easy to be critical of bad leadership because a negative emotional response is very powerful. We are less likely to praise good leadership because these frustrations are avoided and a neutral or happy feeling is usually elicited by good decision making and communication. So when you are presented with not so good leadership, give a shout out to all those great leaders you know. (Carol Marshman, Carol Bridge, Trina Meredith, Bob Aston, Marian Grant, Ellie Donovan, Jenny Conway, Nicole Sherry, Virginia Cluff, Joshua Westerway, Max Woods, Doug Hearne and these are just the ones I’ve worked with in person, the twitter peeps I take inspiration from are too numerous to mention here). They are the reason I can recognise what went wrong and hopefully apply what I have learned to the way I lead.

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