By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera
In recent times I have noticed my growing frustration with our politicians- from both sides of the political divide. On further reflection, the aspect of their behaviour which fuels my frustration, is their ongoing tendency to appear to take no responsibility for their actions, and to use so-called policy as a political football in the blame-game.
This reminded me of one of the models that we introduce many of our Experiential Learning training programs with. It’s called the “Above the Line” model. We introduce the concept by stating that when things don’t go so well, or don’t go to plan, individuals and teams behave in one of two ways-either “Above the Line (ATL)” or “Below the Line (BTL)”. We have found that individuals and teams that are more effective, tend to exhibit more behaviours that are ATL. Whilst less effective teams and individuals are prone to demonstrate more BTL behaviours.
Some BTL behaviours are Justifying eg “ I didn’t think that it was that that important”, Blaming eg “It was Fred who miscalculated the profit margin.”, Defending eg “Now you’re just picking on me” and Denial eg “It wasn’t my fault”. ATL behaviours, on the other hand, are to take responsibility, accountability and ownership of individual and team outcomes. It’s the “buck stops at me” mentality, as opposed to “pass-the-buckism”.
Upon presenting this to one of our clients a few weeks ago in the debrief after an Experiential learning activity, I was accused by the group of being BTL by pointing out their BTL behaviour. I have been wrestling with this issue ever since.
In other words, when we observe BTL behaviour that is not in service of the organisation’s outcomes or its Purpose, how do we point that out without ourselves being BTL? Unfortunately, in this context, two sets of BTL behaviours don’t make an ATL behaviour, so as leaders and managers it’s imperative to model the very behaviour that we want to encourage more of in our teams.
Here is my view and I would be curious to hear the views of others.
Whether or not our intervention, upon seeing the BTL behaviour in our team or team-mates, was ATL or BTL can only be ascertained in hindsight. In other words, there is no recipe for what we should say when we observe BTL behaviour, nor is there a fixed way of how we should say it. Whether or not our intervention was ATL or BTL is dependent on the outcome of what we did. If what we did or said had a positive outcome and empowered or provided an insight which enabled the individual or team to transform their behaviour to be more ATL, then our intervention itself was ATL. If however, the outcome of what we did serves to produce more BTL behaviour, and actually moves the individual or team away from effective functioning, then our intervention was possibly BTL.
This way of leading teams challenges managers to take ultimate responsibility for the outcome of interactions between themselves and their reports. While this may be a heavy burden to carry, some would argue that it is the responsibility of leadership. I would also suggest that it is the responsibility of the authority conferred upon you by your leadership role within the organisation, which means the buck stops at you to a much greater extent than those you are leading.
So if we go full circle, is my frustration at pointing out our politician’s BTL behaviours, BTL in itself? Well the impact remains to be seen, but I suspect that not many people feel empowered or inspired to change by having their “faults” point out by a frustrated onlooker. I guess that means its back to the drawing board for me (read the therapist’s couch) to figure out ATL ways to think about our current political situation.
Please share your thoughts about how to address BTL behaviours in your teams, whilst at the same time remaining ATL yourself?
Dr Errol Amerasekera
For more on Below the line behaviours visit our ‘Beating Obstructive Behaviours’ program at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/bob.php
On the Changing face of Leadership….
The face of leadership is changing everywhere we look. If we start on a global context we have seen the overthrowing of many world leaders who ruled mostly by means of a dictatorship or tyranny. To bring it closer to home, with the work we do with our clients, we are starting to also see a turning of the tide as well. It seems like the days of the iconic heroic leader are drawing to a close.
Why is this happening? Perhaps because business just seems more complex these days. In the 80s and 90s in the halcyon days of people like Jack Welsh, a CEO’s role was simple- improve the bottom line and boost shareholder value. Notice I said “the” bottom line- as in only 1 bottom line. This allowed them to pour all their energy, focus and resources into achieving a single, tangible outcome.
Oh how times have changed!
Now business leaders have to report on a triple bottom lines taking into account people and planet as well as profit. Lately quadruple bottom lines have come into vogue, where there is also a value and reporting placed on the spiritual well being of organisational members.
Given this, we see one of the most significant challenges of corporate leadership as we move forward is to come to terms with the competing demands of multiple bottom lines. No longer can we focus on a single outcome and therefore be single minded in our approach to business. And what if one of those bottom lines appear to detract from each other? How do we drive profit and still create environmentally sustainable policies? How do we look after our people and their well being and at the same run lean in challenging economic times? And even more frightening, how do we as an individual leader or an organisation contribute to someone’s spiritual well being and development?
These are indeed complex problems and if there was an obvious and easy solution, everyone would be doing it. But from a leadership perspective, the thing that we have found most effective is to develop our facilitative leadership ability.
Facilitative Leadership sees that there is an underlying process to these challenges, as well as solutions. It understands the limitations of how we think, and also realises if we can sit in the tension of the unknown long enough, magical and innovative solutions form organically. The key questions then becomes how do we as leaders generate buy in from our team members, make space for a diversity of views and advocate reflection in order to increase our capacity to grapple with and find solutions for these complex challenges? This is the art and science of facilitative leadership.
To find out more about True North Learnings ‘Supercharge our Superstars leadership program click here: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/sos.php