The profound impact of the attitude of the leader

Sep 05, 2022

As leaders we are always steering the ship. Consciously or unconsciously, we are creating the results that lie ahead. Direct reports obviously bring perspective and answers, however it is the lens through which the leader experiences their world that colors the true outcomes.

Leaders are expected to have the answers and solutions, and as leaders we must thus also believe that we do. What happens when a leader is not aware of the mindset and thus the lens through which his or her world is experienced? The impact can be significant, the difference between growth and constriction.

I can remember more than a few instances where my attitude lens shaped surprising results in my business. Here are a few examples: At one point, during a difficult project where we needed the entire team to be at full efficiency, one of the key team members was ill and was not able to work on a particular day. Not feeling particularly well myself, I allowed my negative attitude to show through my words and actions and did not speak favorably of the missing employee. Instead of saying “bummer he is sick, lets do the best we can” the message was “I cant believe he is not here” thereby implying that I was questioning his commitment to the team. The results were disastrous. The employees were left wondering if they were valued or not…if I was really the leader that they wanted, and had all day to discuss it in my absence. Not only was the day lacking in productivity, but I also had to patch back the relationships with each individual one by one over the ensuing week. The repair took weeks and months for my mistake.

On the flip side, earlier in the development of the team, a new (2 weeks in) team member showed up to the jobsite reeking of alcohol and obviously confused. He was not retaining key details for the project and I was concerned. I was feeling empowered and energized that particular day and instead of passing judgment and taking immediate action (other employees were advising me to terminate his employment out of concern for alcoholism and what that might bring with it), I chose to stay in curiosity. This behavior was not aligned with my experience with the individual. It came to pass that the employee was feeling overwhelmed with the onboarding process and was in between health insurance policies where he was not able to receive his usual prescription he depended on for sleep. Thus he was self medicating, and alcohol was the available resource. In the end we evolved through this issue and our commitment to each other strengthened.

Over time, this same employee tested my commitment and resolve, sharpened my lens. Repeatedly, he would find himself over committed to situations (of his own doing) and at times he became aggressive about it. Instead of engaging my own ego and pushing back, I chose to remember what had previously worked and listen. Using patience and openness, I expressed support and empathy and the anger had nowhere to go. Eventually I was able to prove that I was an ally and not an adversary, here to work through whatever needed to be addressed. I earned the trust and allegiance over weeks and months.

This same man ended up becoming the greatest team leader in the company and had I not been aware of my attitude and intention, none of this would have manifested. Had I instead engaged my ego and been closed minded, conflict would have pushed us apart and diverged our paths.

The lesson that I learned was to simply be aware of how I was experiencing my world as a leader. The lens through which I experienced my world steered the results of not only my future, but also the future of the team, company and employees.

Awareness is the first step of this process. How is your lens working for you?