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Personal responsibility matters for you and your team 

As a leader in early 2020, would you have ever thought that our world would so entirely change due to a global pandemic? And yet, life goes on. Regardless of the change and uncertainty, your business, team and organisation still need to make things happen.  

On the one hand, you are asked to manage business as usual. On the other hand, you are asked to adapt. How does a heartfelt leader manage this balancing act? In times of rapid change and uncertainty, a lack of personal and team accountability is tempting because it lets you off the hook.  

My best mate Sandy, who passed away pre-pandemic, gave me some of the most significant learning moments in my journey to becoming a heartfelt leader.  She also taught me about the importance of personal responsibility. 

About seven years ago, I was a manic project manager who believed in tightly controlling every situation so that it would work out EXACTLY how I wanted it to. At the time, I was teaching leadership – which, on reflection, seems hilarious – to a group of CEOs. I had been called in at the last minute to deliver some training because the booked trainer was sacked that same day. Although it was at short notice, I was confident I delivered a thought-provoking and insightful session. But, at the end of the session and in the days after, I received feedback from the client that it lacked energy and effort. She was disappointed in me. And, of course, I was enraged that she dared to criticise my session. 

Debriefing, I spoke to Sandy at length about this. She took me to a local bar, poured me a large wine and let me rant and rave for quite some time. I expected Sandy to join me on my witch-hunt – take up some pitchforks and go after this client. Fortunately for me, Sandy suddenly turned and said to me, ‘So, why has this woman got to you so badly?’  

There was a long pause. 

‘Wait’ I said, ‘Hang on a minute. What are you talking about?’

‘Kerry’ said Sandy ‘You know your stuff, so why are you so upset about her feedback? What’s going on for you?’  

There was another long pause. Once I got over the shock of her question, I stopped and thought. Of course, there was a whole bunch of stuff going on for me at the time. My gut knew it, and my heart knew it. They were waiting for my head to catch up.  

At that time, I had many personal issues going on – things like a divorce, a tricky personal relationship and little kids adjusting to a new lifestyle. What that meant was I hadn’t prepared well for the leadership training, and I had delivered a lazy, half-done session.  

I am forever in debt to Sandy for holding up a mirror to me, myself and I. I specifically credit this as the defining moment that started me on my heartfelt leadership journey. It was the specific moment where I had to own my own baggage and recognise that it was all about me – about what was going on for me, and nothing to do with my client, the participants who had complained or anyone else.  

The problem, no matter the problem, you will learn, is never about them (them being your people – your team). The problem is about how you, and I mean you, perceive the situation. Once you understand that it (the problem) is all about how you perceive it, it becomes a game-changer for your life as a leader.  

Change is the only thing that’s constant in our lives. And, as a heartfelt leader, you need to expect it, embrace it and plan for it.  But never forget! A lack of accountability will let you and your team off the hook and send you towards chaos.  On the flip side, an organisation that is too tightly controlled will stifle innovation and change. 

As a heartfelt leader, the magic is in the balance.  They look to their projects and people for opportunities for both control and chaos.  Balancing personal responsibility with innovation and change. 

Kerry Swan, author of Heartfelt Leadership (Publish Central $29.95), is a born-and-bred project manager.  With more than 20 years’ experience as a self-employed consultant, coach and teacher, Kerry has worked with hundreds of leaders. 

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