Leaders hold themselves accountable for finding potential in people and processes. ~Brene Brown
Brene Brown is one of those people who could honestly be characterized as “having gone viral.” Her TED Talk, entitled The Power of Vulnerability was posted online in December 2010 and has amassed well over five million views. It’s one of the top-viewed TED Talks right up there with Steve Jobs and Elizabeth Gilbert.
This past week I listened to a recent webinar Brene recorded and I like her definition of leadership: holding myself accountable for finding potential in people and processes. Note: it’s not about holding others accountable, it’s about holding yourself accountable. And it’s not about accountability for results, but accountability for finding potential. Results are a consequence but the means is finding potential.
I’m personally struggling with finding potential. I certainly don’t disagree with it; I’m struggling with doing it. I have one particular client that is challenging me. I knew from the beginning that it likely wouldn’t be an easy ride. They are a highly successful start-up that’s matured enough that they now need to move from the kitchen table to the conference table. They need to become more like an organization with some structures and processes that will support their continued growth. Said another way, they’ve outgrown being a start-up. The change from kitchen table to conference table is a significant transition and like many organizational transitions it can be uncomfortable. It leaves people asking, “If what got us here has worked, why won’t it get us there?”
This client is challenging for me because it seems much of what I suggest isn’t coming out right or being received in the way I intended. I feel like I keep fumbling the ball and I’d like at least a few good plays to move the ball down the field. So I’ve turned to Brene’s definition of leadership for inspiration and guidance. Since I’m a person who likes to make lists, I’ve come up with a list of five specific things I could do to find potential in people and processes with this client.
1. List what I believe to be the strengths for each of the leaders and use that as the lens for changes I might suggest.
2. List the strengths of the organization and use that as the perspective or lens for suggested changes.
3. Ask more questions. As Jim Collins suggests, I should double my ratio of questions to statements. How can I find potential if I’m not asking questions?
4. Be patient. Whenever I’m trying to find something, it’s rare that I find it immediately. Uncovering potential takes time.
5. Hold myself accountable by putting steps 1-4 in writing. Create an outline of what I intend to do and then through follow-up memos (or even journaling) report back to myself what I’ve learned, what’s been accomplished, and identify the next steps. In other words, create a feedback loop and recycle the process.
Finding potential in people and processes is not a one-time event. It’s a commitment to a way of thinking and behaving that makes others, not us, our top priority.