Monday, December 8, 2014

Leading with Honesty

The fish stinks from the head down.  Anyone who has ever belonged to an organization or institution has given a knowing nod to this proverb at one time or another.  But if you’re a manager, consider this:  is it possible that perhaps YOU might be that stinky fish?  The inclination is to point the finger, or deny: “My direct reports only pay me compliments,” “I don't get any complaints.” “It's not me, it’s the executive/vendor/company,” etc., etc., etc.

Reflecting on the possibility that you may be causing organizational problems is a bit like signing up for root canal.  No one wants it, but with the prospect of enduring one short-term pain to get to the “root” cause and alleviate another, it’s worth peeling back a layer for a quick examination…

Let's start with why you may only be receiving compliments from your staff.   How many employees do you know who openly critique their managers, directly to their managers?  You hold the keys to the kingdom.  You can hire or fire them.  They need to ensure that they continue to get paid.  Why would they risk giving negative feedback and creating a “shoot the messenger” situation?  Even in companies that claim to have flat org structures, there is hierarchy.  Employees tread lightly when it comes to their bosses.  Don't assume that because you aren't receiving the criticism, it doesn't exist. Chances are, if you create the right forum, a safe place to give and receive feedback, you might be able to cull valuable suggestions for organization improvement that make you and your team better. 

Make time to support your direct reports.  Don't assume that you're empowering them by being laissez-faire and leaving them to solve every problem.  Some issues are systemic or managerial in nature, and need to be solved by YOU.  On the other hand, don't do their jobs for them.  If you are too busy "working" to manage, this is a red flag that you need to balance or step back from your work as an individual contributor and start proactively managing. 

Take a hard look at your org structure, as well as the way you manage.  Have you set up a structure that is creating role confusion or de-motivation among your staff?  Have you allowed a problem to continue at your managerial level that is preventing your staff from succeeding?  Are you truly empowering your staff to drive progress, or have you created a dependency on you as the Single Point of Failure?    

The right training can pay off in spades.  There are a number of good programs; Ken Blanchard’s tried-and-true Situational Leadership can benefit both you and your staff.  But whichever your style may be, remember: stay brutally honest about your own role.  Get feedback.  Schedule your own personal regular Agile retrospective to ensure you stay focused on continue improvement.  Be the kind of leader that truly affects positive change.