I’ve worked in several organisations that see themselves as high performance workplaces. Leadership in these places was often strong in some areas, but showed significant blind spots in others.
One particular blind spot I keep encountering is when a leader blames their team for not taking opportunities that are “obvious”. The same leader will then say that the place is “whatever you make it”. They want their team to “step up” and take on more responsibility.
This implies that opportunity abounds, you just need to step up and take it.
Blaming your team for not taking opportunities is the easy way out
The problem with blaming your team for not taking opportunities is that it implies a certain type of personality, which not everybody has.
Stepping up and taking on opportunities is easier for some people than others. It requires courage, an appetite for risk and a “go-getter” mindset.
When a leader blames their team for not taking opportunities, this is like saying “why aren’t you all go-getters like me?” Once again, this leader is taking the easy way out instead of engaging in a little bit of productive introspection.
If your team is not taking opportunities, there are several possible reasons why
It’s easy to blame your team for not taking opportunities or being able to see them. When they aren’t seeing opportunities or taking them on, there are several possible reasons.
Your team is not taking opportunities because their personality does not naturally “step up”
People aren’t all go-getters. We all know the Richard Bransons and the Alan Sugars who “started from nothing” and grab opportunities by the throat, never stopping until they succeed.
Not everyone is like that.
Some people are averse to risk taking and don’t like to put themselves ahead of others when they haven’t been asked to do so. You might regard them as inferior, but they aren’t. Just because these people aren’t stomping on other people’s throats to step up, doesn’t mean they’re useless.
In fact, I’ve known many people who are highly capable and skilled, but their personality is not pushy or forceful. They have considerable trouble publicising or advertising themselves for an opportunity.
Your team is not taking opportunities because your leadership style does not encourage it
It is worth looking at your own leadership style before judging your teams for not taking opportunities. Do you actually leave room for somebody to take on more responsibility? Or perhaps you are a micromanager who likes having control? Maybe you are critical of people who make mistakes. Maybe you don’t let people know when you need help and therefore your team hasn’t been able to identify the areas where they could step into the breach.
All of these traits are not conducive to creating an environment where people are going to want to step up to the plate. Perhaps they should step up anyway and push through that barrier. However, doing so risks annoying the boss and ruining any opportunity for future advancement.
As you can see, it is always two-way. On the one hand, you need to provide an environment where people feel safe enough to take on more responsibility. On the other hand, your team needs to make that leap too.
Your team is not taking opportunities because…they aren’t really opportunities people want
I once worked with a leader who was frustrated at one of her team for not wanting to work hard and be promoted in a certain role. In fact, she implied the team member should consider themselves lucky just to have a job. (Expecting people to be lucky just to have a job is one of my personal bugbears, so I won’t dwell on this point. You can read the link above)
The point is, just because *you* think that an opportunity exists, does not mean that people in your team want it. Perhaps they don’t really like their job, or they just want to work 9 to 5 and go home, rather than have the extra responsibility. There’s nothing wrong with this and it is all down to personal preference.
As a leader, if you think there is opportunity to be had, don’t just wait for somebody to take it. Why can’t you offer it to somebody in your team who you think has the best skill-set for it?
This rubbish about wanting people to “step up” is old and tired. Our teams and workplaces have so much diversity these days that you simply cannot expect everybody to clamber over one another for an opportunity. There are cultural, gender and personality type factors which influence everybody’s behaviour.
If you choose to endorse alpha-dog go-getter behaviour in your teams, that’s your preference. But thoughtful leaders will note that this isn’t necessarily going to get the best result.
Remember that not everyone is like you.
Expecting everybody to “step up” is an old and tired concept. Leaders should be creating an environment which encourages people to take on opportunities, without expecting it. Leaders should be offering opportunity to those who don’t naturally see it, but are well suited to it.
Give your teams the best circumstances to take on more responsibility. Don’t sit there complaining because you don’t have the next Richard Branson in your team. Give them a hand and they might surprise you.