How Leaders Avoid a $5000 Response to a $50 Crime

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  • Someone on your team has not followed through on an assignment.
  • You have caught a competitor in a blatant lie.
  • You have discovered that a partnering organization is trying to lure someone from your staff.

Each of these situations, and a thousand more you could cite, require a proportional leadership response.

And getting the response right to challenges that arise, ensuring that your response is indeed proportional, is a defining characteristic of effective leadership.

To over-react leads to an erratic uncertainty in your culture. In the wonderful television show The West Wing, President Bartlett once allowed a personal agenda to get the better of him, as he declared all-out war against a nation who had shot down a plane. His advisor cautioned him that he will have “”doled out five thousand dollars’ worth of punishment for a fifty-buck crime.”

His response would not have been a proportional one.

But to under-react leads to mistrust in your judgement and ability to act decisively. When everyone around you knows that an infraction has occurred and they see little or no leadership response it can lead to a defeated mood in the culture.

So how do you get it right? How do find that elusive but important proportional response zone in your leadership?

In the most effective leaders I know, I have found three recurring strategies to be employed.

1.     Methodical, consistent self-reflection

I take the time to write out the issues that are on my plate and reflect, on paper, the various options that are before me. The simple act of slowing down and disciplining myself to examine complex issues in this way has often saved me from an over, or under, reaction.

2.     Counsel from trusted advisors

Some of my best advisors have almost nothing to do with my chosen field of leadership. This can be an advantage, as their perspective is not tainted by any internal bias. But being able to meet regularly with wise leaders with whom I can ask, “What would you do?” is a life-saver.

3.     Insights from the world’s best leaders

I’ve learned that there’s no challenge I have faced that hasn’t been faced at some point by fantastic leaders in dozens of situations. The good news? Many of them have written about their experiences in great leadership books and blogs. I devour these.

Whatever issue lands on your plate this week, take the time to find a way to seek a proportional response.

And avoid a five thousand dollar response to a fifty buck crime.

How do you find your own proportional response zone?

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.

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