Owning Up - Have You Seen It?

08 Sep 2015 8:00 AM | Anonymous

As someone who views life - work, in particular - as an opportunity to watch and learn, I've noticed that some things consistently grab my attention. Often it's how a manager leads a project or team; whether or not it was actually successful, how the people around that person interact or even how the effort is structured and planned. Everyone does things a little bit differently, which can affect the outcome. I've had my share of positive and negative project experiences, as have most of us. Sometimes you know right off the start that the project is a train wreck waiting to happen, and other times you can almost watch the project avoid the collision and get back on track. If you aren't too deeply embedded in the project, it can be fascinating to see all of the parts come together.
What comes after the project is often a character-defining process. One example where I've seen this is how the project is evaluated after the work is completed or canceled. I have participated (grudgingly at times) in post-project reflection sessions, also known as Lessons Learned or Project Post Mortems. Don't get me wrong; I believe in the power and value that these exercises can bring. Can bring, as in potential results. However, it has been a rare occurrence in my experience to actually see these sessions executed effectively. Some of these meetings have been too high-level, too 'fluffy,' too "I don't want to cause waves, so I'm holding back" in tone for any real evaluation. There is nothing to learn, of course, if the details aren't communicated and shared.

That said, I'd still rather have a session like that, versus some of the more abrasive and almost combative meetings that I've attended. In those exercises, blame is assigned and punishment is meted out. When that pattern is more of a trend than a fluke, it's no wonder that attendance can be light. People generally avoid painful confrontations, particularly when it comes from familiar sources.

Imagine this: What if the project leader stepped forward, accepted responsibility and maybe even apologized for the project's outcome? We have all read the articles where great leaders are defined as giving the team credit for success and solely taking blame for failure themselves, but does that really happen? OK, sure, I've had project leaders thank the team and outwardly acknowledge the team's role in the success of the project, but rarely - nay, never - have I experienced a leader taking the heat for a poor performance. Like many of us, there are excuses (see the previous ASEM blog post) that are put up as valid reasons to explain shortcomings and mistakes. It happens and it's not surprising. After all, leaders - like the rest of us - are human.

The wheels started turning for this blog after I read a posted article about apologies and great leaders. It was an interesting piece; well written and thoughtful. But I had a hard time finding an example in my experience where any of my leaders had sincerely and wholeheartedly apologized in a way that made me think of them in a positive light. I can think of a number of times where an apology was warranted. There were also a few mumbled attempts at apologizing. The behavior that I've seen most commonly has been little more than a shoulder shrug and an offhand "Hey, it happens" sort of retort that does little to build relationships or garner respect.

As you face down a new workweek, maybe it's time to think about what you see and wish to see from the people leading your work. Are you waiting for the admonishments to come rolling down on your team? Or maybe you won't hear anything - positive or negative - and you'll be left wondering how your work is perceived? Perhaps you have a manager that needs to be the bigger person, to own up to the responsibility for the outcomes? And what, dare I ask, if we are the manager where this critical eye should be pointed? Are we ready to shoulder that burden and make the hard decisions?

I'd love to know more about your experiences. Please share your comments below or reach out via social media. I'll close with this thought: "Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility. In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take on responsibility." ~ Michael Korda, Editor-in-Chief, Simon & Schuster
Image credit: New Old Stock (http://nos.twnsnd.co/)

Tricia Simo Kush is a certified Professional Engineering Manager with a background in Information Technology and a goal to take her career to a higher level through Engineering Management. She graduated from the MEM program at St. Cloud State University in 2010. To her, Engineering Management is a fascinating mix of technology and business, people and process. She is constantly seeing the ways that Engineering Management spans industries and helps everyone to become effective leaders. Follow her on Twitter (@TSimoKush) or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

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