The Window and the Mirror

'room with a view' photo (c) 2009, vince42 - license:

I recently started reading the classic business management book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins. I’ve read some his newer work (Great by Choice is a fascinating read), but never Good to Great. His books are easy to read and often cause me to put the book down (or in this case the iPad) and reflect on how I’m leading my teams. 

While I work at a church and not a Fortune 500 company, I think there are a lot of lessons we can learn from successful companies and CEOs. As Collins does so well, he distills years of research down to a handful of salient principles that, when applied correctly, can change the way you do business; or lead a tech team. 

One such principle is The Mirror and the Window. His research team found that the CEOs from the highly successful companies they studied are not the typical “rock star” CEO some envision; instead they display a unique and seemingly contradictory blend of humility and drive. When things go well, they look out the window at the team that made the success possible and give the team the credit. When things go poorly, they look in the mirror and take the blame. 

I’ve thought about this a lot as a TD. We’re professional techs, good at what we do and typically hit are marks with great regularity. Our volunteers however, tend to be school teachers, engineers, students, fireman or salesman. Unlike you and I, they don’t spend every waking moment developing and honing their technical skills. 

It’s really easy for us to throw them under the bus in a debrief. “Yeah, that Jim, he just never seems to get the shot in focus.” “Betty has a hard time keeping up with the song lyrics, what are you going to do.”  And if things go really well, it’s easy to take the credit. 

But that’s not what really smart CEOs of great companies do. And I don’t think it’s what smart TDs do, either. 

I’ve not always done this well, but more and more, I’m seeing my role as one who makes my team successful. That means training them well, developing systems and processes that enable them to do a great job and taking the heat when things don’t go as planned. 

Something amazing happens in teams when we as leaders share all the credit and absorb all the blame. It seems counter-intuitive, but it works in great companies and it works in great tech teams. 

The reality is, the ultimate responsibility for how well our services run from a technical standpoint falls to us. But if we want to be truly successful, we need to share the credit with our team. We obviously can’t do it all alone, and we’re nothing without a great team. 

When we give the team the credit, it builds them up and generates a huge increase in morale. When we take the blame, it also encourages the team because they know we have their backs and will come up with a way to make it better next time. 

How do you encourage your team?

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