Let me describe a way that leaders can feel about their firms and you see if this is you.
You love your firm and the people in it. Perhaps you started it or perhaps you came in later, but you grew it to a dramatically larger concern. You’ve invested years and cared about everything from the design of the welcome desk to the exact packaging of your product. You feel very personally all that is in it. In fact, if you were to be really honest, the firm is you. Your imprint, your spirit, your blood and sweat are everywhere.
Now, there is certainly a great deal to honor in this approach. We want leaders to care, to invest, and to feel a part of what they lead. Yet let me tell you the downside of this.
If a leader feels too personally about what he or she leads, if it all seems part of who they are, it can lead to bad decision-making, an inability to hold people accountable, and poor performance. Let me explain.
I worked with a leader years ago who was just like what I describe above. The firm was her and she was the firm. She bled and hurt over every inch. People loved her for it. Yet she took it too far. When something went wrong, she felt responsible. She had failed when the product shipped in a flawed state. She had let her people down when production was down. It was a personal rejection when someone left.
Now, I’m not criticizing her for feeling what she felt. It was the fact that her feelings about herself and the company became one, and that clouded her judgement. I told her that the problem in shipping was bad departmental leadership and that a certain person needed to go. She looked to me for perspective in such matters. But she was too mired in her sense of personal failure to see the situation for what it was. The same was true when production dropped. Some shifts in her team were needed. She went around mumbling that she had let her folks down, but she never made the hard choices that would have turned things around—and did, by the way, when the firm was sold and the new leadership made the required changes.
Now, you may be uncomfortable that I’ve used the example of a woman here. Don’t be. Men make the same mistakes and even worse, largely because men often have even bigger egos to protect and so deceptions can take even deeper root. The point is not gender. The point is over-personalizing the firm.
Look, I’m in charge of my firms and feel deeply for them. Yet I’m not so sentimental that I can’t see where fault lies or what changes need to be made. I’m not so eaten up with a guilt that comes from over-personalizing that I can’t see the objective problems that prevent performance.
So how about you? Take stock. Get counsel. Take action. Over-personalizing is death to great leadership and death to performance. Feel strongly about what you lead but see it clearly. Take the actions needed to achieve.