Reimagining Leadership: When the Sh%^ hits the Fan


When something goes wrong at your organization, how is it handled? Is the stakeholder taking responsibility for the mistake admonished and humbled beyond their own disappointment in themselves thereby making it less likely others will ante up on their mistakes and out-of-integrity moments? Or, is there inherent safety in active listening?


“Being” with the one who is clearing their misstep, staying connected and noticing any resistance by looking one another in the eyes is reimagined leadership in the era of happy workplaces.


Just being witness to their admission, taking a breath together when it seems they are finished, and recognizing they are having a pretty powerful human experience in the same moment will diffuse the fear and likelihood for continued discourse. By the way, all of that is silent. No words to memorize or techniques to have to have in your back pocket. Honor them silently and know you are also honored as a safe place to lay their admission.


When it seems they are ready, ask a question like, “How has this diminished you in your own mind?” “Where did this experience fail to live up to your standards?” Or “In all this, what’s your biggest disappointment?” (Give them time to think as you might catch them off guard in their expecting you to lead by reprimanding.) After they’ve answered, recognize their reply by repeating it to qualify you’ve heard them correctly. Do not coach here. Do not try to fix or master the circumstances. Just Be. Then move to create something new. Ask them what they want to accomplish in life or who’s been the greatest contributor in their life. Acknowledge their humanity and their dreams or goals and move back to inspiration for expansion.


It’s not that you are in avoidance of talking about their mistake or its inherent outcomes, because sometimes waterfalls occur after unattended drips. There will be time for that later.


Greater growth comes of inspiring those in your workplace trying hard enough to make mistakes (be they minor or egregious) to trust you and their safety in the community enough to admit them. A leader’s mission is not to chastise their reports, but instead to keep them on task so they may be successful. That is, in the end, what we all want. For when everyone in the organization is successful, the company is successful. Each stakeholder is part of the community we create in our organizations. Holding space for people who are aligned to the same values will soon feel like one of the reasons you wake up every day thrilled to be a leader. Rewarding, inspiring and expanding work sometimes comes of the shit hitting the fan moments with KPI’s and ROI outcomes you’ve yet to even imagine.

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