Leadership

Practically applying "I" and "We" in communications about the team


Another week up, another week down.

Sometimes I feel like we're in a nightmarish form of bowling league.

We start the week off with a huge stack of pins; I keep rolling the

ball down the lane. Sometimes I hit. Sometimes I miss. Most of the

time we get about half the pins down before the next rack hits. Now

I've got a forest of pins and not enough room to roll the ball.

Maybe that image got twisted around

itself. Anyway, we had a pretty good week. The team got a lot done.

We pulled off a handful of minor miracles. We built some good

solutions and came up with some testing plans to isolate several

major environmental problems. I also failed to migrate a server due

to a modest networking problem, though I have neither control over

the switches nor the willingness to hack them.

Now, I'm going to reveal something

about my communication style here. We refers to my team. We do

things well, though hardly flawlessly. We work hard, stay mostly

focused, and even have some fun along the way.

I, on the other hand, make a lot of

mistakes. I'm responsible for most of the things which go wrong.

Production network team deleted during a server move. My

responsibility. Backup software not configured properly on the

server. My apologies to Operations for not taking care of it.

Database doesn't install on the standard server image, adding days to

an otherwise simple project. I made an error in judgment somewhere

along the way.

In a team, success belongs to those who

do the work. It's their thoughts and skills which drive

accomplishment. They invest the time, solve the problems, and think

sideways around the incidents to discover the issues and identify the

underlying problems. When a project turns out well, it's because the

team as a whole pitched in to succeed.

They rightly deserve public praise and support.

In a team, failure belongs to the

leader. I have no control at all, sometimes, but I remain

responsible for the results. It's not that I ignore or reward the

errors; honest errors are addressed and problems of understanding or

training receive due redress. When it comes down to it, though, it's

my job to make sure it gets done right and my failure when it does

not. There's always another person I could have talked to, another

stone I could have asked the team to look under.

This approach represents a variation on

the whole “praise in public, punish in private” approach most of

us use to one extent or another. However, the “I/We” statement

splits its focus in terms of what it's trying to accomplish. On one

hand I'm trying to preserve both my team's and the extend team's

face. On the other, I'm trying to condition myself to accept the

responsibility which comes with the authority to set other's

priorities.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it

doesn't. I'm not always as mature as I would like to be, as wise as

I think I should be, or as strong as I need to be. Such is, I guess,

life.

Anyway. Another week down. I'll post more on Monday after I get my bearings.

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