Sometimes a question can really make you squirm inside.  I was having a conversation with a mentor about a challenging leadership problem that I was facing.  Organizational change was rolling in and cherished ways of doing business were no more.  Mistrust, anger and apathy were becoming the “new normal” for the team.  Everyone was convinced that the situation was someone else’s fault.

My mentor listened patiently, took a hearty swig of dark roast and dropped his bombshell.  “So,” he said, “where are your fingerprints in this?”

My mind immediately went into defensive mode.  “But I’ve been doing all the right things” I thought to myself.  “They won’t listen to reason.  They just want to be childish and petty and…”  Suddenly I realized that my mentor was still talking.

“What you are describing,” he said, “is sometimes called ‘low awareness’.  One of its symptoms is that people start seeing everything in terms of ‘us and them’.”  He looked me in the eye.  “So, where are your fingerprints in this?”

One of the big challenges of leadership is to remember that our team’s view of the world is shaped, to a considerable degree, by us.  If we exhibit defensive behaviour and blame someone else for a situation, so will they.  (Their focus of blame may well be you – at least once the meeting is over.)  If you “model the way” and share candidly about your struggles and fears, they are more likely to feel comfortable enough to share their own – and who knows where that could lead to!

That situation that you’re losing sleep over?  Where are your fingerprints on it?  Let’s talk about it.