Struggling with “I’m Sorry”

Today at work, I was leading a collaborative team. And I failed miserably.

By nature, my leadership style is collaborative, so one would think leading a collaborative team would be a natural fit for me, that it would be easy. I develop agendas with the team. I send it out for the team to give additional input prior to the meeting. I print a copy for every meeting to guide us. I ask for team members to bring their ideas for sharing, to take on tasks and share the responsibility of the group. Then they don’t respond. And they may or may not do the shared tasks/responsibilities they committed to do. And I’m left feeling less than adequate as a leader.

I have to face that there is nothing collaborative about our “team.” Our “team” says they commit to the norms we have set. Our “team” says they will abide by the team’s decisions arrived at via consensus. Our “team” then closes their doors and do their own things–none of which we agreed to do collectively. We aren’t a team at all. And I’m deeply, profoundly disgruntled by this fact. My “team” are long-time colleagues for whom I’ve always had high regard. That regard has become overshadowed by the persistent turmoil on the team. I’m furiously treading water so that I don’t drown in the pit of isolationism created by my various teammates. I’m desperately holding on to the notion that if they could only see the big picture and that we are all making changes that might lead to our working outside our comfort zones, we could arrive a real place of consensus and begin to work together as a finely oiled team–a real team that picks up and carries a struggling team member rather than leaving him by the side, a team that reflects and adjusts together, a team that supports each other through sharing the workload rather than deflecting it to the leader, a team that has a common purpose and consistent method. Yet we can’t seem to get beyond redoing the same tasks over and over again rather than moving forward, reflecting, and adjusting at intervals. We have reached a stalemate and are moving forward at little less than a snail’s pace. Maybe I should take comfort in the fact that we are moving forward at all. Hooray for small victories! Meh.

Our meetings, which I try to facilitate in a fair and equitable manner, often descends into off task chaos–“team” members not reading or honoring the day’s agenda, “team” members taking off into left field looking at isolated pieces rather than focus on the task at hand (yes, these pieces are important, but taken out of order). Ultimately, the “team” hasn’t bought into this new process we are using, and they revert to the strategies of the past. As a leader, I have failed to move them forward.

So I am left with a crisis of confidence in ability to lead this “team.” I have shut down from offering suggestions or asking for clarifications or seeking consensus, support, or help from them. Instead, I can only listen and  shift into “what I hear you saying is” mode. I can only stand on the side and let the team do their individual work and claim they are collaborating while we still each operate on our singular islands. I will concede to what the “team” wants, because their vision and what they want differs so vastly from my own vision and interpretation of this new process that the only leadership I can provide is to stand on the side and let them run with it.

Yet I find myself feeling compelled to apologize for having a vision and sense of direction. I find myself distrustful of the team rather than my own path. Now I have only to apologize to myself for helping to move our team away from what I believe our vision to be because my team members need me to be that kind of leader right now. I will apologize to my “team” in the hopes of restoring some sort of peace and process. I will no longer be the person with the training imparting information and structure to the new process. I can only give tiny bits at a time, if at all. Saying “I’m sorry” shouldn’t be so hard. And while I mean it when I say it, as I have failed as the group’s leader, I cannot help but struggle that I am apologizing for trying to move us in the right direction. Change shouldn’t be so hard.

Yes, today I failed. I shouldn’t be afraid to fail. Who knows, maybe I will learn from it. I’m looking for that silver lining.

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