The expectations of leadership in today’s world are unrealistic in many cases. A most recent example experiencing this is Ryan Day, coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Legendary OSU Coach Woody Hayes is said to have hated Michigan so much that he coined the term TTUN (the team up north) for Michigan because he couldn’t stand to say their name. Well, I’m not that intense about it, but I am disappointed that my Buckeyes lost to the TTUN last week – not to mention for the last three years … yet the demands for Coach Day’s firing is ridiculous. From my couch in front of my big screen TV, do I think there may be some things I would have done differently? Certainly. But I am in the comfort of my home, with the benefit of technology everywhere, and I am not coaching young men who are 18-22 years old who must make their own instinctive, on-the-fly decisions.
I think Day called a good game other than twoconservative calls on 4th down. Could that have been the difference maker? Maybe. However, I also know that they didn’t get a stop in the second half, and that could also be the difference. But more than one game, let’s take a look at Coach Day’s record:
Day is in his 5th year as head coach at OSU. Nick Saban didn’t compete for his first natty until his 10th season as head coach at lSU. Kirby Smart made the playoffs in his second year with UGA where they lost to ‘Bama, and he won it all in his 6th and 7th seasons, similar to Day.
Dabo didn’t compete for a title until his 8th season where Clemson beat ‘Bama for the natty.
All of the coaches listed had a period of irrelevancy before they became who we see them as today. Not to mention,Ryan Day has a 56-7 record and has led Ohio State to being the only team to make the playoffs in the last threeout of four years. Could we be patient with Ryan and wait it out? After all, TTUN Michigan stuck with Harbaugh despite starting his tenure at Michigan 0-5 against Ohio State.
Truth is, Ryan Day has that record: 56-7. I understand that three of those losses are to Michigan and that is a tough pill to swallow. I know many say he can’t win “the big ones,” but do you realize how hard it is to win? He has lost seven games in five years. Many programs lose sevengames in one year. Fifty FBS teams lost seven-plusgames this season. We want to compare Day to Tressel and Urban and that is partially fair. Both have won national championships. They also went a combined 16-1 against TTUN. Some say Day doesn’t beat anyone good. Urban only won one national championship at Ohio State. Those are also the only two playoff wins he had while being here. He also lost in a semifinal by thirty-one points. Tressel also lost twenty-two games in ten years. They both lost to teams that they shouldn’t have lost to. Day only has threeconference losses.
I need to move on – can you tell I’m a fan? 😊 But I think it’s bigger than Day being fired. It’s more of what coach wants to come to Ohio State knowing you have to win every game every year or you get fired? Nobody wants that. Can you imagine doing things right 89% of the time and people only think about the 11% of things you do wrong?
Here’s my real point. It’s not just Coach Ryan Day. These days being a leader can be exhausting. Modern leadership includes being directly responsible for employees’ mental health and wellbeing, psychological safety, as well as diversity and inclusion – and being held responsible for their decisions, their wins, and losses.
They are expected to be decisive yet flexible, empathetic yet analytical, and clear yet nuanced.
Good leaders care about their teams and employees. But the more they care, the more personal results. They are hurt much more by the constant critique and judgement. Many feel that they cannot do right no matter what. When caring leaders become disillusioned and leave, those whoremain are hard-nosed, thick-skinned, disconnected leaders – hardly ideal. We need good leaders now more than ever.
So, what can be done to ensure we are (and get) the good leaders we all want? Here are five area for all leaders to commit to priority attention:
1. I commit to strong emotional regulation. Becoming triggered by all the emotional chaos around you is exhausting. Covid and the lockdown really upset the apple cart here. Everyone became less controlled emotionally, partly due to the stress of being confined indoors, partly because it is easier to avoid outside relationships in the safety and relative solitude of your own home.
Now that we all have to operate in the world more regularly, when others are emotional, emotional dysregulations from others can suck you in, causing a cycle of upset. A co-worker or client is upset, you become upset, they are upset at your reaction and get more upset, and the ripple effects are really damaging.
Psychologists and counselors have for years been using a tool called the Drama Triangle. In the triangle, there are victims, rescuers, and persecutors, and they all trade places without regulation. Victims need a persecutor to blame and a rescuer to save them. Being cast as the persecutor can feel unfair and unwarranted, leading them to become the victims in their own triangle. Being cast as the rescuer can feel rewarding at first but it becomes an unending task, and you become the persecutor to the other person in that triangle since the victims will always see themselves in that role.
Instead of getting sucked into any of these roles, it is important for leaders to remain grounded. You can listen, empathize, and be compassionate without feeling the need to agree or disagree, rescue, or persecute.
It also helps to be well-organized. Most people like clarity and hate surprises. Publishing even a small agenda for every meeting can help people to prepare mentally and emotionally. Having one clearly appointed facilitator for every meeting, even an ad hoc temporary one, can help provide clarity and direction and ease friction. If you need to cancel, leave, or change anything about a meeting, take an extra moment to explain why. People will appreciate the clarity and it will stop them from taking it personally.
2. I commit to developing and maintaining clarity about my leadership type. Identify your strengths and lean into them, cultivating skills that are uniquely a fit.Find your “why.” Why do you do this work? Why is it meaningful to you? Once you know the reason and meaning behind your own motivations, it becomes easier to focus on them and develop the right skills for meaningful work. Perhaps Patrick Lencioni’s TheWorking Genius will help you and your entire team. It is one of the most helpful and effective tools today for getting personal clarity and confidence in your strengths.
By setting these meaningful and relevant personal developmental goals, you will become the type of leader you want to be.
3. I commit to cultivating peer support. Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely. Cultivating a group of supportive peers and/or mentors can give much needed support in processing decisions and difficulties. Peer support groups can be particularly important and effective in larger organizations where the structures and systems keep personnel more separate. Creating groups of leaders on a similar level for peer support, challenges can be discussed and processed openly without fear of conflicting agendas or power dynamics. In smaller situations, or for very senior leaders, developing mentor/mentors relationships with a trusted leader where you can speak openly can be very helpful. It is very important for sustainable leadership that you don’t simply “tough it out” alone.
4. I commit to developing my skill and courage in difficult conversations. Dealing with difficult people and behavior is key to being a leader and is one of the most challenging. Many more tender-hearted and empathetic leaders think/hope they can avoid conflict by avoiding difficult conversations, but this only causes issues to fester in silence. You cannot move consistently in the right direction without facing the difficult conversations necessary in your team.
However, this does not come naturally for most of us and requires practice. Practice your listening skills with peers, mentors, and even third-party trainers. Start small. Don’t dive head-first into a major difficult situation on the spur of the moment. Before going into a situation, plan your difficult conversation, have talking points, and decide how you will stay on track. Have an ending point in mind and be willing to schedule a follow-up. You may not resolve the situation in one difficult conversation, but you can demonstrate that you value the person.
You don’t need to do everything that is expected or you, or meet every demand, but you do need to engage. That means listening, understanding, and asking questions. Showing that you are genuinely interested and concerned goes a long way to resolving and even preventing conflict. People must SEE that you genuinely care.
5. I commit to developing resilience. To lead in our world with any degree of effectiveness, you must find ways to develop resilience to criticism. This doesn’t mean you stop taking feedback. It does, however, mean creating an armor around your heart so that you don’t take it all so personally.
You must train yourself to consider the source, the degree of information and expertise they actually have, and the “story” that is going on in their own life at the time, or previous experiences they have had in life. Not all critics and criticisms have equal value or weight. To equalize it all will kill your spirit and your wise responses.
Armor means boundaries. Setting them for yourself will allow and encourage you to switch off and recover. Set specific times when you will switch off your phone and laptop so you aren’t constantly on call. Limit the number of evenings you work late as well. This will help maintain energy and work-life balance.
You must remember that the expectations for leaders today are unrealistic. No one can live up to them. You can’t. And you can’t expect other leaders to do so, either. The truth is, whether it’s the president of the United States, the school principal, our child’s teacher, another business leader, we expect them to make the “right” decisions, but not necessarily because their logic is so sound. We want their choices to suit us, and we forget they are working with more people’s ideas, preferences, and beliefs than our own. Typically, we have a hard time respecting and refraining from criticizing anyone who takes a different view and approach than we prefer. Whatever we need and want is what we believe is most valid.
We expect leaders to be strong and brave and kind and calm and smart and curious and inspiring and consistent and composed and knowledgeable and organized and compassionate and friendly and attentive and vulnerable and outgoing and innovative and confident and resilient and driven and thoughtful and articulate and positive and flexible and decisive – and we expect them to be these things every day, whatever the circumstances, whatever they personally are going through, and however they’re feeling. We want them to adapt to changing circumstances without missing a beat. Our expectations of leaders are lofty, to say the least.
And we must remember that the people we lead are expecting this from us as well. If they can hear and see our understanding of others, perhaps they will learn to be more understanding of our humanity as well. Of course, there are leaders whose actions and motivations are truly without honor, but I believe that’s the minority. I believe most business leaders, pastors, coaches, teachers – most leaders – are hardworking, good people who are doing their best to make things better for the people and communities they serve. Of course, even the best leaders have their flaws. They can be inconsistent and disorganized, forgetful, tactless, cautious, moody, distracted, stressed, short-sighted, defensive, busy, unclear, indecisive, over-confident, hard-to-please – what did I miss? And it’s inevitable that some of the choices leaders make will turn out poorly, not because they are bad people but because they are human. That’s you, me, Coach Day, and everyone else. We understand that people are fallible and accept that they will make mistakes, but we seem to apply a different standard when we look at our leaders. We want our leaders to be perfect, and when they fall short of this standard (as they inevitably will) we are all too quick to complain. Unless WE are the leader. Then we want patience and understanding. In any role, the job of a leader is difficult and challenging. We are expected to deliver results in high complexity and high workload environments, while wrestling with their own set of human frailties, imperfections, and personal circumstances outside the circumference of their job. Unrealistic expectations of leaders and constant criticism don’t help. It just makes the job more difficult as leaders second-guess themselves and move into survival mode.
Don’t do it to another leader and don’t do it to yourself. Take responsibility and commit to grow and develop your leadership skills. That will expand your true leadership and influence. And remember the Golden Rule of life and leadership from the greatest leader the world has known:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, treat others in the way you would like to be treated. Have the compassion and understanding to other leaders you wish for yourself.
Sent from my iPhone