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It’s hard to hold a team together when mistakes happen. The temptation to point fingers may be hard to resist. Good leaders take more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit. Unfortunately, most leaders take more than their share of the credit and less than their share of the blame – losing the respect of their team. When errors do occur, are you ready to support heroic efforts even in the face of failure? Here’s a story that a friend shared with me recently.

New hire Tim received his first big task as project manager and promptly assigned various tasks to his team, emphasizing the drop dead due date. As the deadline approached and tasks were submitted, one team member stated he “forgot” and did not have anything to add. Without the data, the task could not be completed. When Tim’s supervisor requested the completed task, Tim had to admit that it was incomplete. The supervisor asked why. How would you reply?

Tim realized it would be easy to blame his team member. But is that right? Tim explained that he had assigned the task to another, but ultimately took responsibility by admitting he failed to follow up with the co-worker to ensure his work would be received on time. In the midst of problem solving, the Division Manager entered the room and requested the completed task. When told it was incomplete, the supervisor was yelled at for Tim’s mistake.

Tim was embarrassed and sure that this would end his employment with the company. Imagine his surprise when he realized that the supervisor was taking the heat for his mistake. Not once had the supervisor even mentioned Tim’s name. It would have been tempting. All he would have had to do was to point his finger at Tim and say, “There HE is. He’s new, and he’s defective!”

After the Division Manager ran out of steam, he said, “This shouldn’t have even happened!” Tim’s boss replied, “It did, and I take full responsibility. This is my department. But every minute we are spending here means we are that much later in getting the project completed.” The DM left the room, leaving Tim alone with his supervisor. The supervisor did not look at Tim. Instead, he stared at the door, closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. When he opened his eyes, a smile formed on his lips, he looked at Tim and said, “Don’t do that again.”

Tim was effusive with his words of apology. His supervisor stopped him, “I think from this point forward you are going to remember the importance of follow-through. You took responsibility for your mistake, a sign of a good leader. I respect what you did. You’re the kind of person I want working on my team. Now, I’m going to need your help to get this project completed.”

Leadership may not be as complicated as we make it. A great leader will be able to lift some workers up and know how to calm down the others, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat together, a team. Lead by this motto: If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win for you. Those are wise words on leadership no matter what kind of team you lead.

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