Thursday, August 9, 2012

Learning leadership is "not all about you"

This story is from Laurel Richie, president of the WNBA, as told to Adam Bryant of the New York Times:

I had just been made a vice president at Ogilvy & Mather and I was running an account that was incredibly successful. I went on vacation thinking I deserved a break. I came back and my entire team had gone to H.R. and said: "We can't do it anymore. It's a great account, but we don't like working for Laurel because working for her it feels like it's all about her and not about us. So we want to work on another piece of business."

Q. Welcome back from vacation.

A. Exactly. I remember feeling shocked, and defensive at first. But then I really stepped back and listened to what they were saying. I really thought I was a terrific leader because if you looked at all the metrics, we were successful. But I learned very profoundly in that moment that if there is not shared ownership of the work, both our successes and our failures, people aren't going to have a satisfying experience.

Q. So what did you do?

A. I redefined my job as a leader to create an environment where good things happen, and where people feel good about their role on the team, and they feel acknowledged, they feel empowered, and they feel visible. I thought that in many ways I was protecting them from bad things, and they were saying, in effect: "No, actually we want to see those bad things. We won't grow unless we experience them."I went back to the team, and we all went in a room and I said: "I got the feedback. Thank you for doing that. I had no idea. Can I have another chance and can we work together on this?" And we all came together.

I learned this lesson as well. In my first vice-president role, I was worried about delivering results to my superiors, and so focused on that first, second and third. Only later did I realize the cost of that on my team. Eventually, they told me.

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