As a leader, what do you do when it’s time to step up and address a challenging situation? Are you able to inspire your co-workers and subordinates to get involved and contribute to the solution, or do you dive in and take over? If you feel you are the only one left at the helm during these times, then you may be taking on heroic responsibility.
At first nod, this sounds like a positive trait, but read on to find out how it detracts from your own results and alienates those around you.
Hollywood loves heroic responsibility; who doesn’t want a hero to come in and save the day? History is full of heroic responsibility. When leaders take on heroic responsibility for critical choices facing their organizations, it is often the beginning of a mass team exodus.Why is this? Isn’t becoming a heroic leader what we’ve all been practicing for?
The choice to go it alone tends to set into motion a cycle in which team players are frozen out of sharing the burden of the solution. Hijacking the situation is not going to engage the people around you.This could be detrimental for everyone. Do you want to be left holding the bag when all of your support has fled the situation?
The “all or nothing” approach with regard to responsibility and leadership fosters an infectious cycle. Here is how it goes—
- Leader reacts to the first sign of hesitation from others by trying to fill a perceived void.
- Members feel further marginalized, encouraging even more of a retreat.
- Leader is resentful for having to single handedly bear the whole situation and collapses under the pressure.
- Leader does an abrupt turnaround, flipping to an under-responsible stance to be insulated from the perceived looming failure.
- Followers react by assuming over-responsibility themselves, ensuring that they will never again be dependent on a leader who lets them down.
An Infectious Attitude
Leaders often say, “no one did their part!” This is actually the result of leaders not doing their part to engage, inspire and rally all of those involved in the situation.
This dynamic can infect any relationship - in life or in a professional setting - and spreads like a virus.You can find an obvious outbreak of the virus wherever people are saying that they were tricked, duped or were “just following orders.” Of course, as a leader, we never want to hear that last remark!
Rather than seeing winning as the highest value, we must replace it with the value of making an informed choice, based on dialogue. Instead of control, we must value generating internal commitment.
Consider this: What we think about, we bring about.
Because the root of heroic responsibility is fear, the more we ponder possible failure, the more likely it becomes. Even the most seasoned leader can experience an innate “fight or flight” response when fear sets in, in the face of a high stress situation. The extremes of this response require the leader to either seize total responsibility or assume almost no responsibility.
A different, more thoughtful approach will render a positive outcome: collaboration, resource magnification, the benefits of diverse talents and perspectives. Consider your reaction the next time you are faced with an extreme situation. Remember how detrimental a fight or flight response can be. Find the “responsibility balance” and lead people through the situation to individual and organizational success.
By taking the path of mutual responsibility, we not only help ourselves but we actually protect others from the “responsibility virus” and bring them closer to the middle ground of responsibility.