The Finger Pointing Syndrome—It’s A Bad Look For Leaders!
Many of my perceptions and observations about how leaders behave are formed as a result of the 360-degree feedback discussions I have with the team members of leaders I coach. After all, it’s in these safe, intimate and candid interactions that team members’ perceptions are genuinely laid on the table. And that transparency makes their thinking like gold for their leader’s growth and development.
This bulletin is again one that capitalises on these crucial team member observations….
The Common Trap
One of the very noticeable traps that we human beings fall into, if we’re not alert to its dangers, is to incriminate and blame others when something goes wrong. We physically, verbally or attitudinally point our finger at someone else.
We think, talk and behave as if another person is the cause of the problem.
Now, some finger pointing is OK. It’s actually healthy—but most of the finger pointing I hear of is unproductive, in fact it’s actually very destructive! Let’s distinguish this perilous activity from its safe cousin….
When Is Your Finger Pointing Destructive And When Is It OK?
Your finger pointing is perilous when your finger is pointing out, accusingly, at someone else. And it’s OK when you’re pointing your finger back in toward you. Hmmmm, “More commentary required please” I hear some of you say…
OK, let’s look at Dean’s scenario (as always, I’m using a substitute name here):
Dean, on most counts, is a superb leader. And there is one stand out that distances him from his team members, that creates mistrust, that diminishes the confidence and motivation of his team…
When something goes wrong, or even when it looks like something’s going to go wrong, Dean’s quick to hold others’ responsible and at fault. Habitually, he points his finger at someone else, for example:
Dean’s team’s results are below par, way lower than expectations. In a team meeting Dean’s habitual behaviour is to say something like…
“You guys aren’t pulling your weight. You’re just not putting in the effort that you need to put in to turn this thing around.”
They’re not very motivating comments are they? Especially if the team thinks they have already been putting in an effort! How defensive and self-protective do you think his team members would react as a result?
By the way, their emotional reaction might not be overt and, mark my words, there will be performance and productivity related consequences.
Imagine if Dean said something more like…
“OK guys, we can see that these numbers aren’t looking good. The question I have for you is ‘What can I do to better support you to get these figures to where we need them to be?’”
In take-two, Dean’s pointing his finger inwards and accepting some responsibility for the situation. And this is when finger pointing is OK—when your finger’s pointing right back in at you.
Now, Let’s Be Clear About This: Sometimes Someone Else Is At Fault
And regardless, yep, regardless, of who made the mistake, who caused the error—it’s dysfunctional to point your finger at another person, physically, verbally or attitudinally.
Your finger pointing will always cause a reaction—defensiveness, resistance, mistrust, distancing, lowered morale, and reduced productivity are typical.
And the good news is, it’s not going to be hugely difficult for you to habituate a much more constructive, and more productive, behaviour—provided you stick at it.
Your Leadership Call to Action
I want you to take a mental “stock take”…
- Think about two or three recent interactions, particularly those that didn’t go as smoothly as you would have preferred.
- Consider your communication and your behaviour in those instances. In which direction was your finger pointing?
- If it was pointing out, physically, verbally or attitudinally, how did the other person/people respond? (Remember, their response may not have been very obvious at the time.)
- What will you do to habituate more inward-finger-pointing? It’s very productive leadership behaviour!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Carolyn Stevens has worked with leaders for more than 25-years—hundreds of them.
She’s supported leader after leader (including those who previously struggled to confront the difficult, let alone persuasively deal with the it) flourish—and become confident, courageous and impressively influential.
Carolyn is authentic and results-oriented. She draws on an eclectic array of approaches, tools and techniques to suit the situation.