blogging about DIRECT LEADERSHIP

Sins of Omission[1]

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I spent the morning pondering the topic of difficult conversations.

Now difficult conversations are by definition not “everyday” and as such not a topic for this blog, except when the difficult conversation is rooted in an absence of everyday leadership.

Personally this is a sin of omission that I have been guilty of. Actually just recently. Unfortunately along with thousands of  managers every day. Too little managerial intervention too late eventually allows what could have been a small problem to grow and fester until it has become unmanageable. I believe the ingredients are: lack of clarity, boundaries and consequences:

Clarity – about what I want/do not want

Boundaries – not the sort designed to fence in my counterpart, but around myself in relation to what sort of behaviour I will tolerate.

Consequences of overstepping those boundaries.

In my own recent case of falling into this trap, my counterpart was not an employee. Nonetheless I can see that I have been far too lax on managing clarity, boundaries and consequences. Things have been fussy (Were they clients, colleagues, partners or friends? Which parts of my business did I invite them into, which parts not?) And consequently it has also been difficult to determine what constituted a violation of the boundaries except when things got so tense that I just wanted them out of my space. And even then, for a while I chose to be blind to the track record and keep issuing invitations to connect with their strengths – consciously ignoring that there was another side to the coin.

Obviously I can’t tell whether more firmness or clarity at an earlier stage would have taken things. It might have led to a better and more satisfying relationship. Or it might have brought about the breakup at a much earlier stage. However, either way, it would have saved us all a lot of energy. Including the time spent in searching for explanations in psychology and blame. Psychology certainly plays its part, but that part cannot be dealt with without identifying the boundaries of both the playground and each individual.

Coming back to the relevance of bringing up this incident here:

It is relevant as an example of the importance of creating clarity and consistency in everyday leadership. And during my entire career I have spent time coaching people in similar predicaments.

In fact, having the Referee style in the Direct Leadership Matrix stems from my record of listening to numerous managers who were struggling to deal with certain employees who persistently were behaving on the edge of the acceptable. However, almost invariably these managers were guilty of that same old sin of omission.

By the way, lots of courses teach “the skills of the difficult conversation”. However, the test of our leadership capabilities does not lie in that one difficult conversation.

A good everyday leader does not need that course. He/she deals with things when they are small problems, they do not allow things to get this far.

Do you have someone among your staff or in your surroundings with whom you have this kind of struggle?

Let me suggest that you make yourself aware of what sins of omission you have been committing. The sooner you do, the better are your chances of reaching a satisfying solution.

[1] In Catholic teaching an omission is a failure to do something one can and ought to do.

The degree of guilt incurred by an omission is measured …. by the dignity of the virtue and the magnitude of the precept to which the omission is opposed as well as the amount of deliberation.

Paul the Apostle refers to this sin directly when he states “For I do not do the good I want …” (Romans 7:19).

Excerpt from Wikipedia: Sin of Omission definition


Written by Karin Zastrow

July 4, 2012 at 14:19

Posted in Misc

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  1. Karin – extremely interesting post. I too recognize this ‘sin of omission’ in myself. In my case the underlying reason not to take appropriate and timely action has almost always been that little doubt inside me. Am I right or is it perhaps the other party that is doing/saying/acting it right … ?

    The way I read your post that doesn’t seem to be your problem. So, what is it in you that makes you commit the ‘sin of omission’. How many different excuses do we make for ourselves to avoid taking appropriate steps?



    July 4, 2012 at 20:34

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