Concerning Those Things, We Chase


Concerning Those Things, We Chase

“I tried to be a good leader, I tried to bring them together.”

How often have we heard those words at VIM Executive Coaching? Far too many, we fear. If the old brick walls of our Victorian mansion in Denver could speak, they could recount many dozens of such sentiments.

We thought about leaders “chasing things” just the other day, when one of our clients, filling a void in the important conversation asked us if we were interested in this year’s NCAA tournament! Frankly, we weren’t. Not that we are “sticks in the mud,” but it seemed rather incongruous given that we were in the middle of discussing his leadership style. 

Then soon after, driving home at the end of the day, I couldn’t help but note at how beautiful the mountains were. I had business coaching on my mind, as I gazed at a “14er,” one of our 14,000-foot mountains and thought of an executive who decided to lead her team up a mountain trail. She had been a fitness trainer for many years and “volunteered” her group to accept the team building challenge. The trip up and down the mountain was catastrophic. Oh, don’t worry, no serious injuries were recorded, but one employee quit the company in anger, two others gave up and walked down after 100 yards, and another vowed to never participate in team building again, and registered a complaint with HR.

What Happened?

The examples we shared are all too typical. We are reminded of an ancient saying as applicable now as it was in the days of the Roman philosophers; the saying underscores the differences between the things we legitimately pursue and those things we chase that are superfluous. 

Filling out NCAA brackets, sometimes the wasted hours of filling out brackets, or bowling expeditions that are sure to embarrass team members, or mountain hiking, or community service such as house painting, or many other group exercises, will never substitute for authentic leadership. 

The pursuit of a good time, or what is perceived (by the leader) as a team building time, will not substitute for a responsive work environment, or a work place where there is mutual respect and empowerment.

None of the pursuits, we mention above are necessarily bad. Certainly, painting the home of an infirm individual or participating in a charity fun-run may be good exercises in and of themselves. However, they will not be a replacement for an executive leader who is generally ineffective, offensive, harassing or closed off from any suggestions for work place improvement. In fact, sometimes the team building game may exacerbate rather than help a tense work situation. Far better, the executive leader who is failing in workplace leadership, should focus on the tools to becoming a more effective manger.

When a leader comes to us who says, “Well, I have tried to be a good leader to my staff, but I have failed,” one of the first lines of inquiry is “Are you being an authentic leader to yourself?”

About Your Question…

It is a reasonable question we ask above. If an executive is not mindful of who she or he is as a leader, then there is no authenticity. As an example, suppose the leader is not the kind of person who is comfortable in bringing staff members together who are having a workplace disagreement (in fact, it is readily apparent), why would staff members believe that an “outing” up the side of a steep trail would suddenly make everyone of staff happy? If there is no connection in the office, why would there be a positive connection in a bowling alley?

Far better that the executive goes through the VIM Executive Coaching process in order to learn how to relate to members of staff in an authentic manner. Far better the executive learns to respond rather than sharply react to staff problems.

Who are you as an executive? If the response is, “I’m not sure,” all of the artificial things chased in the work place in the pursuit of team building are off-putting. Authenticity is life’s most honest chase.

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