Are You Part of the Problem or Part of Solution?

As an executive coach or leader, sometimes you need to take a dose of your own advice from time to time.

In the late 1980s, Michael Jackson had a hit song called “Man in the Mirror.” Last year this song took on new meaning for me as I had to do some soul searching regarding some professional challenges that I was dealing with.

Just because I’m an executive coach and provide people insight and advice doesn’t mean that I don’t have to take a dose of my own advice from time to time. Here are three litmus tests that I had to hold up to my own mirror, and that I suggest you may want to use as well.

The first test is a simple but crucial question each of us has to ask ourselves. Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution? When things don’t go the way you feel they should it’s very easy to get knocked off center and feel sorry for yourself. It’s easy to see the mistakes other people are making and the way they are contributing to a challenging situation. However, as I often tell my clients, there are three sides to every story: yours, mine and the truth that usually lies somewhere in between.

Last year I found myself struggling with a professional issue and had to take a step back and see how I had contributed to the issue. This was very hard to do as I was very clear on how I had been negatively impacted. However, truth be told, I had also (without malice) unfortunately added fuel to the proverbial fire. It’s always important to ensure that before you get frustrated with other people that you make sure that you are part of the solution and not inadvertently contributing to the problem.

The second question is around alignment. Organizations make decisions for many reasons. Some of the decisions they make we may agree with. Others not so much. As a leader it’s important to ensure that you contribute your input as decisions are being made. However, once a decision is made you pretty much have two options:

1. Align around the decision. Even if this is not how you would have done it or even if you don’t think this is the best decision, as a leader your responsibility is to give 100 percent effort to make the decision work for the greater good of the team.

2. Take your ball and go home! If decisions are made that you simply can’t align around either due to issues or ethics or morality you need to leave and find a new place to contribute.

The one thing you can’t do as a leader is stick around but whine profusely about how badly you’ve been treated and how stupid the decision is. Leaders support the team regardless of whether they fully agree that a decision is optimal.

Finally, I leave you with the question a leader should always ask his or her constituents: How can I help? People need to know that you care about their success and that your focus is not on your own agenda but on helping them accomplish theirs.  

These are not easy things to do and I know that they were a personal struggle for me. However, I would be a hypocrite if I offered up this advice to others and wasn’t willing to take it myself. As the old saying goes…”physician, heal thyself!”

Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@CIOBenchCoach.com.

This article was originally published on 02-19-2015
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