Being a Part… Standing Apart

Being a Part… Standing Apart

By Carly Fiorina | Leadership Matters | LinkedIn Newsletter | April 10, 2022

One of the great pleasures of working on a team is we form relationships. We get to know people as we work with them. We can form strong bonds when we have accomplished an important objective or overcome long odds. Real friendships form. We come to count on each other, trust one another and value each other.

For those of you who have followed this newsletter for a while, or participated in one of my workshops, you know I am fond of saying: “Balance is the art of leadership.” Leaders must learn to balance the short-term and the long-term. They must balance clear-eyed realism with aspiration and inspiration. They must balance goals that are challenging enough to result in truly improved performance with the need for success along the way.

Leaders need to be a part of the team: as committed as anyone else on the team, able to do what is necessary to help the team, and willing to “take one for the team” if necessary. And yet leaders must balance this being a part, with the need to stand apart in order to see clearly what is happening. A leader cannot miss the forest for the trees. A leader’s personal relationships cannot get in the way of accountability, truth-telling, team-building, or oversight. This happens too often: in the board room, in the C-Suite, and on every kind of team.

I am not talking here about romantic relationships, although obviously, these are always problematic when people are working together. While I am not minimizing the consequences, most of us understand how these kinds of relationships cloud people’s judgment and impair decision-making.

Instead, I’m talking about something more subtle. What happens when an executive describes a subordinate as “my best friend?” Or when a board member pushes back on fiduciary oversight because they “trust the CEO?” Or a team leader confides in a particularly close teammate on a regular basis but doesn’t share this same information with other team members?

In the first case, there is a real risk that the strength of a personal friendship outweighs objectivity about performance. In the second case, appropriate checks and balances, inspection, and oversight get waved aside because everyone assumes nothing bad will ever happen. In the third case, the team begins to break down as suspicion grows that not everyone is held to the same standards or given the same information. And in every case, the leader is less effective and so is the team’s performance.

So how can a leader balance being a part while standing apart?

  1. Be self-aware. Understand where your personal relationships lie. Who are you most comfortable with? Who do you spend most of your time with? Whom do you confide in?
  2. Broaden, beyond your comfort zone, the opinions you seek, the conversations you have, with whom you spend your time. You’ll learn something new every time.
  3. Build objective measures around performance for every member of the team or organization. No exceptions. This is hard work but absolutely critical to real accountability. Good performance management is always built on quantifiable metrics of success. Without objective performance criteria, favoritism always creeps into the equation.
  4. Don’t rely solely on your own judgment about someone else’s work or impact. Consider making 360 feedback a part of everyone’s evaluation. At the very least, always seek the input of others so you regularly test your own judgment.
  5. Design processes that are independent of personalities. What should fiduciary oversight look like no matter who is seated in which chair? What should quality control look like if you don’t know who is doing the job? If the work has real impact, put risk assessment processes in place. No matter who is doing important work, there needs to be regular inspection and an early warning system of potential trouble ahead.

Why does all this matter? Because to be effective, a leader must be seen as fair. To get the highest performance out of a team, every team member must know that performance counts. To build a culture that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive, people need to know that what you do matters more than who you know.

Originally published on LinkedIn by Carly Fiorina. #leadership #balanced

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