Team Leadership Can Even Flourish In An Upset

Team Leadership Can Flourish in an Upset — But Only if You Know How to Respond

Blast yourself and your team out of the excuse-mentality by treating every UPSET as an opportunity to learn how to improve your team building process. Trust me, if you learn how to respond to an upset, you’ll be able to turn a messed-up situation into a stronger relationship with your team members.

When things go wrong and we respond from an excuse-mentality, we get upset at someone or something. We blame, we get mad, or feel a need to get even. Sometimes we get mad at ourselves. Then, to be sure this behavior never happens again, we sometimes make up new rules.

For instance, we might say: “I’ll never again…

  • …work for a male/female manager.”
  • …trust my manager/subordinate.”
  • …date a salesperson.”
  • …have a business partner.”
  • …start my own business.”

Unfortunately, the excuse-mentality never frees us. These responses bind us more tightly than ever to a dilemma.

It’s only when we operate from a responsibility-mentality that upsets can become opportunities for learning, team building, and escaping from dilemmas.

Think about it: when things don’t go well, taking responsibility is actually the best way to claim the full value of a negative experience. It’s only when we move from excuse-mentality to responsibility-mentality that we become ready to ask, “What can I learn from this?” Or, when we’re really brave, we might ask ourselves, “How did I create this?”

These are the questions that harvest team-building value from an upset. I know my biggest breakthroughs have come from my biggest messes and upsets. But the breakthroughs didn’t show up until after I owned the mess and determined how I contributed to creating it.

So, from where I stand, the fastest route to living a freer, happier, more fulfilled life is to adopt the Responsibility Mindset as soon as possible. When you are upset at a partner, no matter what s/he did wrong, you’ll reap the greatest team building value from the experience when you’re ready to look at how you contributed to the upset you’re feeling.

And it’s just a short step from there to see that the fastest way to build and maintain a learning team is to help all your teammates turn their upsets into team building opportunities to learn, too.

Practice Tip

For practice, choose a current aspect of your life in which you’re upset at someone or something. Ask yourself how your own choices and actions actually created the upset. Stay with it until you completely get it. Doing this can be both humbling and immensely freeing.

Then watch to catch yourself feeling upset with a team member at work in the next few days. Examine your own choices and see what you can learn. Take responsibility and examine how you can change your behavior and strengthen the relationship. You may want to ask for a new agreement with your partner.

A Final Note

Don’t you wish the points in this article were grasped by everyone in your team? Then do yourself a favor and forward this article to anyone you know who would benefit from treating upsets as opportunities for learning and team building.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or family) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.

Break through problems, accelerate your growth, and skyrocket performance with The Leadership Gift Program.

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13 Responses to Team Leadership Can Even Flourish In An Upset

  1. Nice post Christopher. It’s so easy to make excuses and to even make excuses for why we make excuses. The core of leadership is responsibility; accepting it whenever possible and serving others who are responsible for the projects we’re involved with. Thanks for the actionable tips too. Mike…

    • Christopher says:

      Thanks Mike. I like what you say: “the core of leadership is responsibility.” I could not agree more.

  2. Hey Christopher, this is great. Here I sit again with my morning and a flurry of news and live streams for leadership, responsibility, gamifying business, lean startups, and as many thought starters that I can handle for my people. Responsibility is the expectation of our subordinates, respect them and own it.

    As I read this post, I immediately got sucked into the “wheel” we use in personal coaching. Here the buzz words like “limiting beliefs” ring in my head. There are two things in leadership that really matter, action and no action. Too often new leaders or young leaders spring into action when conflict, adversity, or failure appears. I like the underlying message of this post as it pertains to mental responsibility over actionable responsibility. In the end, I teach we have to understand ourselves as a whole individual. Starting with one thing at a time is great for personal reflection and beginning the journey that is successful being. I caution that singularity may lead to unintended consequences because of re-action or inappropriate action. Your approach here with when taking mental responsibility first, one prevents these unknown consequences through the lack of action, not by taking the right action.

    This new found knowledge of oneself in a situation allows for further exploration into the greater self, if you will. While we can’t just stand still and take no action, consider that a gut decision may cause more damage. While on a journey of self-growth, discussing alternatives with your immediate peers will help as an action for action sake and provide additional context to concern.

    To take the practice of post to a plan, use an oldie but goodie basic exercise and expand this into many aspects of your life that need be balanced for mental health:
    1. Draw a circle
    2. Divide the circle into “pie pieces” and label each piece with the current aspects of your life
    3. Weight each aspect with a number from 1 to 10, draw an arch, and from the center out – shade it in (shaded areas will look like pizza slices)
    4. When you’re finished you’ll have different sized shaded areas based on the maturity of that life aspect.
    5. You’ll know you’re well on your way as a leader when the shaded areas are balanced into a shaded circle inside the larger circle that is your life.

    This post is a great “onboarding” activity to this larger process of self-growth and leadership grooming. This scalable behavior can be used to mentor others over some scalable process with expectations.

    • Christopher says:

      Scotty, thanks for articulating your thoughts in this way. It seems that the learning/growing aspect of taking ownership is among the hardest to communicate. You’ve helped to show that here in the way you talk about the value of non-action. It makes me think of true masters — responsibility masters — in any field and their efficiency of motion, whether it is a cook, plumber, scrummaster, athlete, teacher, or leader. There is a leanness to their motion that suggests they have incrementally examined and eliminated 1000s of ineffective responses to anxiety, leaving only value and deep learning.

      I’m reminded of the immortal words of Edwards Deming who, on the topic of observing a system, said “Don’t just do something. Stand there!”

  3. “…excuse-mentality never frees us…”
    “…excuse-mentality never frees us…”
    “…excuse-mentality never frees us…”
    “…excuse-mentality never frees us…”

    This must be a mantra until it’s in the fabric of our being. We we do not learn from circumstances, we do not live. I heard a great line from a John Deere commercial once: “Everything we learn goes into everything we do.”

    Great post.

  4. Maria Matarelli says:

    I love the intentional view of an upset as an opportunity. Without a trigger or change in the status quo, it is easy to plod along and sometimes become complacent and no longer fulfill to our potential.

    The excuse-mentality doesn’t seem to accomplish anything, in fact the deflection is extremely counter productive. The responsibility-mentality moves us forward, looking at next steps, using the opportunity to become greater. Great emphasis on this point, Christopher.

    It is easy to see how this can be applied to all areas of life. Imagine if everyone took steps toward taking more responsibility. What a great environment for all!

  5. This is good stuff!

    I have but a brief comment to add.

    Excuse mentality is another manifestation of blame mentality. Blame seeks to force others to change while excuse seeks to explain away the need for change. Neither is productive and both can be very damaging.

    Love the thought here.

  6. Christopher says:

    Maria – Thanks for calling out the intentional view. I love it too. And, yes, what if everyone took steps toward taking more responsibility…? What if I elevate my own practice??? (-:

    Alan, thanks for adding your exclamation point. If you like the comparison of the blame and excuse mentalities, then you will probably love the rest of the Responsibility Process model.

  7. Christopher,

    This post is full of great advice. It can be helpful to leaders and contributors at all levels of the organization. It’s interesting that people at all levels can suffer from the same issue if they are not willing to accept responsibility. Here is a post discussing how some high profile leaders largely because they did not accept responsibility.

    Thanks for sharing.


  8. I’ll point out that, as Christopher emphasizes, teamwork is an INDIVIDUAL skill.

    Why do we make excuses? To be free from blame and judgement.
    Whose blame and judgement do we most fear? Our own.

    No, really — if our boss, our teammate, our mate, begins to spout fire and foam at the mouth, we are less concerned with THEIR reaction than with what it means about US:

    “Oh man, here he goes, I forget to take the trash out just once and he’s going to get on my case again about being responsible. Damn it, I *am* responsible, and I hate how he’s implying that I’m not! Well, if he had only bought trash bags, I’d have been able to take the trash out, so who’s the irresponsible one *now*? Not me, that’s who!”

    Uh-huh. How’s that working out for you?

    Start with a quiet confidence that no matter the upset, it doesn’t change who you ARE. And then own up to your actions. In this way, you are taking FULL responsibility for WHO YOU ARE, which frees you to take responsibility for WHAT YOU DID.

  9. Christopher says:

    Chris, thanks your adding your voice here. I like your post about how leaders fail under pressure. The short list is great:

      Failing to accept responsibility
      Over valuing one’s importance

    Derek, I appreciate your notion of beginning with “quiet confidence.” I’m glad you added it here.

  10. Pingback: Leadership Skills: Why You Need to Appreciate Conflict | Christopher Avery's Leadership Gift Blog

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