I recently sat in on a meeting with a CEO and his executive team to get an update on a critical project one of the executives was leading.
The bottom line? Things weren’t going well.
In fact, they hadn’t gone well for some time, despite a lot of dedication and hard work. The executive described every setback and obstacle that they had encountered, many of which were legitimately out of her control.
As she kept going, I could sense sympathy building among her colleagues. Others were more sceptical, and began to ask questions about the root causes of her problems. This was immediately met with defensiveness.
As this discussion continued, it became clear to me that things had gotten out of control. My inner voice asked, “Why didn’t this leader stop the insanity?”
That question had just entered my mind when the CEO spoke up. And rather than sympathy, the CEO expressed real frustration.
He said, “Listen I understand this has been a tough road for you and your team. Yet, at some point you had an obligation to come to me and recommend that we kill this project. We’ve wasted too much time and resources trying to make this a success. It’s time to admit defeat on this, and move on to more important work.”
The team leader was obviously thrown by the CEO’s words. But many in the room realized he was bang on.
It’s a pattern I’ve seen a lot in working with senior leaders. We’re wired to drive success, so much so that often we can become maniacally focused. While that can be strength in some situations, it can also be a weakness for others. Especially if we lose sight of our broader leadership obligations.
One of the things that define truly great leaders is that they know when it’s time to abandon a goal that has become unattainable.
These are leaders that frequently conduct an honest assessment of their work and have the courage to admit failure or recognize the costs for failed efforts on the organization.
I see too many leaders unable to break free of the insanity. Projects run amuck, work processes fail, progress falls short of intended targets. Far too many leaders believe it is their job to keep going in the face of evidence things are not working out. These are the “hope against hope” leaders that forge ahead even when doing so is the essence of insanity.
Real leaders do work hard and demonstrate a determination to succeed. But they also have the good sense to know when you need to take a different approach, or stop an initiative altogether.
What about you? Are you leading with insanity?
More importantly, do you have the courage to stop it?
About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro