When something in a workplace goes awry and frustration begins to build, there’s a distinct difference in how a leader handles the situation and how it is handled by a person who simply exercises positional authority.

Getting to a Solution Means Moving Beyond Accusations

When a boss begins making accusations, you can be assured that any meaningful solution is still a long way off. Accusations cause team members to respond with denial, obfuscation, finger-pointing, or even lying to protect themselves and/or others.

None of these reactions move the team closer to a solution. Instead, they erode the possibility of building an environment of trust and interdependence.

It’s important for those starting out in positions of authority to remember that hostility, impatience, bullying, and unfounded accusations do nothing to further their growth as leaders. Teams need and desire trusted leaders, but these practices prevent you from becoming that trusted leader.

When you make the decision to become a leader, you must be clear about which practices will guide your daily work. However, leaders don’t always realize that they need to be just as intentional about which actions and strategies they will not employ. 

Placing the Issue in the Middle of the Table

When situations are stressful or even volatile, one successful strategy is to practice “placing the issue in the middle of the table.” This allows you to take the first step, by gathering your team’s input to help identify the problem and all its facets.

This strategy takes practice! Consider applying it as a norm and begin practicing it with issues that are not emotionally charged. Then, when a crisis occurs, you’ll be able to start the process of moving toward a solution by calmly and clearly posing the question.

When you allow your team to identify and name challenges, you can then ask clarifying questions. You must be prepared to function as a facilitator, rather than an inquisitor, during this process. Your two goals should be:

  • Solving the actual problem
  • Building your team’s capacity to perform throughout the problem-solving process

There is a very little long-term benefit to solving a problem if trust among your team members has diminished or the collective confidence of the team is harmed. By “placing the issue in the middle of the table” instead of relying on bullying and accusations, you’ll support your team’s ability to perform at a high level.

Stop Using the Word “You”

Want to be a highly effective leader? The word “you” should be used sparingly, or not at all, outside the context of offering praise or support.

When a team member hears “you” from their leader, the conversation becomes an exercise in the exertion of positional authority rather than a mutual effort to move forward. Substitute the word “we” instead. This allows conversations to remain centered on solutions. “You” often implies accusation, while “we” indicates shared responsibility.

Leadership is the art of bringing people together so they can collectively achieve a higher level of productivity, creativity, and ingenuity. The secret sauce in this process is to help your teamwork through challenges together while building their capacity to perform. If you can do this — instruct rather than accuse and nurture those who have underperformed or made mistakes — then you will ultimately realize much higher levels of long-term productivity and loyalty.

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