If you want transparency and trust in your organization, as a leader you must become competent at course correction. Course correction sounds easy on paper, but real-life application is often extremely difficult for business owners and entrepreneurial leaders. One reason is simply brain wiring: We human beings actively look for evidence to prove that we are right. When there is a gap between what we want to experience and what we are actually experiencing this creates extreme discomfort.
These two examples are what is called confirmation bias (seeing only evidence that supports your beliefs) and cognitive dissonance (the discomfort that is created when encountering facts that contradict your beliefs.)
In my own words, we look for signals that we are right about the way we view the world and the way we view ourselves because it feels good to be right, and feels bad to be wrong.
So, here’s the question: Could the ability to course correct become a competitive advantage in leadership? Here are five steps to courageous course correction.
1. You must admit you are wrong. According to Francisco Dao in an INC. Magazine article, “It is so rare for leaders to accept responsibility without pointing to extenuating circumstances that when they do, it is greeted with amazement and praise. While consistency is an important leadership trait, the ability to admit mistakes and accept full responsibility far outweighs the appearance of resolve.”
2. You must look at the facts. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve worked with company leaders who blamed employees for sloughing off, not getting the work done, or making costly mistakes. After some digging we always find the root problem, which can be the mixed messages, not having standard operating systems, not using the numbers to make solid decisions. The way I identify these issues is when I’m coaching an owner and the complaint is vague. There are no observable behaviors that can be reported, or there is no factual financial data to back up their grievance. For example, “My director is allowing too many dropped balls.” When I probe and ask, “What does a dropped ball look like,” or “What specifically is happening,” or “Have there been any changes that might justify why there are still some projects left undone,” the leader usually will answer sheepishly, with something along the lines of “I don’t know.”
3. You must develop other leaders. It’s so hard to give up the glory. The glory I’m talking about is the belief that only you can do the job right. From this confirmation bias, you will look for mistakes that other make. After all, you are paying them and there’s no room for error, even if you don’t admit all the errors you made when you started the company. You will underestimate how things have changed from when you started the company to where it is now. With many entrepreneur owners, I see a common thread: the belief that no one else can do “it” like you can. The “it” being the job with all the dropped balls you keep complaining about. You have to quit making up a story about how no one can do it like you, and instead you need to develop other leaders to do what you used to do. Blaming will not help you get to where you want to go.
4. You must get comfortable in the gap. The gap is the place between where you are and where you want to be. I talk about the gap at length in my book, “Stop Workplace Drama.” The gap is a scary place full of the unknown. The brain craves certainty and in the gap, there will be surprises and plenty of chances to course-correct. This fear can lead to aversion, and to alleviate aversion the first response is to blame someone else when things go wrong. The good news about the gap is t hat the gap is the place where you get to practice your ability to accept personal responsibility.
5. You must accept personal responsibility. You have to lead by example. Next time you find yourself complaining, take a breath. Get comfortable with the aversion. Get comfortable with the cognitive dissonance. If you can get comfortable with all those uncomfortable emotions, you might find that course-correction is much easier than you thought.
Examine your confirmation bias. Go back through all the steps. Do you have facts and observable behaviors to support your assumptions? Is there a payoff for believing no once can quite measure up to your standards?
When you are able to separate fact from fiction you will be right more of the time, and when you are wrong you can use course correction to your competitive advantage. The end result is having the respect of your employees, while building transparency and extreme trust within your organization.
—Marlene Chism is a professional speaker, trainer and the author of Stop Workplace Drama, (Wiley 2011), and a regular contributor to MANAGING POWER.