Jon Benfer, Director of Executive Coaching
The Arbinger Institute
A recent complaint we received from a manager:
“I do my job, I get my results, and no one has to chase me down or manage me. Well, my employees are also ‘big boys and girls.’ They should be able to get results! I pay them top salaries; they were hired because of their competence and expertise; I trust and expect them to get things done. But when things get critical or go wrong, no one steps up to take responsibility or deliver results. I don’t know what to do!”
This is a common, but distorted, view of the situation.
How is it distorted? It’s an example of an inward mindset. When we have an inward mindset, we distort how we see ourselves, others, and even the world of work in order to justify what we haven’t done (or what we have done that we might regret).
Viewing ourselves as able to “get results” provides justification for expecting the same of everyone else…and absolves us of responsibility if our team and colleagues fail to deliver. After all, they are “big boys and girls.” They shouldn’t need our help.
Characterizing employees as “big boys and girls who shouldn’t need my help” provides leaders with justification for expecting results, but without:
- Providing leadership
- Investing the time and energy to develop the team
- Taking ultimate responsibility for actually getting results
How Does this Mindset Develop?
Almost all leaders face extreme demands on their time—deadlines, meetings, reports, and more meetings. Hiring competent people is often an attempt to share some of this workload. However, when we forget to invest the time to build quality relationships with our people and nurture their ability to deliver results, we open the door to the “big boys and girls” mindset.
This manager, for example, discovered he hadn’t been having regular face time with his direct reports, hadn’t been helping them set goals, and hadn’t taken time to clarify his expectations. Because of his inward “big boys and girls” mindset, however, he blamed them for the resulting problems rather than taking responsibility and action to improve the situation.
Everyone has an inward mindset at times. But this is particularly problematic for leaders, as it will provide some form of justification to not do what we should and to blame others for the resulting problems.
Luckily, we can change our mindset.
How Do We Change Our Mindset?
- Identify our signs of being inward. These might be unreasonable expectations of ourselves or others, feelings of blame or frustration when others fail to deliver, unwillingness to help, and so on.
- Find a place to reflect. Note what our justification has excused us from doing—for example, from spending time with our team, setting clear goals, listening, clarifying, or teaching. If it’s challenging to identify what we’re not doing, ask for feedback. Our teams can tell us where they need more support.
- Take action! Do what we haven’t been doing. And keep doing it!
Changing our mindset and taking action based on what we learn is what will foster results for ourselves and for our teams.
We welcome your thoughts and experiences with an inward mindset. When have you slipped into it? What was the impact it had on the situation? Did you get the results you wanted?