When I started at Intel, there was a principle called ‘Assume Responsibility’. It meant if you find a problem, assume responsibility for it and either fix it or find the right person to take it on. For a problem solver like me it was right up my street. Not only could I try to solve all the problems but I was encouraged to so, or so I thought. These days I see a lot of clients acting in the same way. They are taking responsibility for holding everything together, however difficult the challenge. While their intention is very positive, it puts them on a path to resentment and burn out when they become overwhelmed. In doing so they also stop leading which is ironic.
Heroic Leadership Isn’t the Answer
Doing more and put all the issues on your shoulders may sound like heroic leadership, and in the short term that may be true. In the long term, it is a losing game. They aren’t leading their way out of the situation and instead they become a bottleneck. When times are tough, the better approach is to stop and take a look around. It sounds counterintuitive but doing more work isn’t the answer. They need to assess the overall situation. What is going on and what is likely to happen? Take a look at your key business indicators – what do they tell you?
It’s Time to Face Reality
I suspect the picture won’t be pretty and resist the urge to get back to work. It is time to face the reality of where you are at. If you have less resources than planned, what level of performance can your group sustain without heroics? What do you need to get back to your plan? Now you are ready to have an effective conversation with your boss. Use your data to help them understand the current situation and give you the support they need. Most bosses will jump at the opportunity to help you, they are also problem solvers at heart. If they don’t, ask them to acknowledge the situation and accept the risk of doing nothing.
At the end of the day, you can’t control everything. It is not your responsibility to fix everything. Effective leaders understand the bigger picture and formulate a realistic plan to create a brighter future. When you find yourself in a hole, put the shovel down and stop digging.