The Culprit is the Contract

As a manager, when we protect our team from the truth, we create dependency. Our behavior becomes an unspoken contract that, when there is bad news, the team doesn’t have to worry, because the manager will bear the impact. When there is a hard problem to solve, the team can stand and watch while the manager solves it. When there is a tough decision to make, the team can deny all responsibility and point to the manager, after all, that is why the manager gets paid the big bucks. When there is a conflict in the team, the team can whine and complain behind everyone’s back and depend on the manager to step up and confront the issue.

This circumstance feels good in the beginning. The team is off the hook. The manager gets to play God. The offer of omnipotence from the team to the manager is difficult to turn down, irresistible. It is a co-dependent relationship that cannot be sustained.

It is a contract based on a falsehood. While the manager promises to shield the team from pain, there will (always) come a time when that is no longer true. The truth (pain) spills on to the team. The team feels betrayed. The unspoken contract is broken and the team will turn on the leader.

Documented in military literature, the squad leader makes a promise to the platoon. “Do what I say. Follow my lead. And, I will bring everyone home safely.” It is a promise the platoon desperately wants to believe and the seduction of the leader begins.

Reality always wins. A fire fight ensues and one hapless recruit does not return alive. The contract is broken, the team feels betrayed. In the quiet of the camp at night, one lone team member lifts the flap of the leader’s tent and rolls in a grenade. The military term is fragging.

It was not that someone died. It was a relationship based on a lie. Inevitable betrayal of a unspoken contract. The culprit is the contract.

Unspoken Collusion

“I got your back. Don’t worry, I will not call you out on your mistake. In return, I expect you to keep silent on my mistake.”

Unspoken collusion.

Sounds like a loyalty statement, AND it is built on deception.

“I got your back. I will call you out on your mistake, especially if it impacts the team. I will not mince words, I will give you the feedback I think you need to improve, AND I will be there to support you, encourage you. I expect you to do the same for me. Do not allow me to think that no one notices when I screw up. Help me see (reality). Help me hear the words I need to hear to perform at a higher level.”

Spoken cooperation. Conscious dialogue.

Sounds like a loyalty statement, AND it is built on a search for the truth.

A World That No Longer Exists

Best Practices are based on past experience, a best practice to a problem that we already solved. Necessary but not sufficient.

Past experience may be helpful, but seldom covers all the bases. Past experience seldom anticipates change and often misses critical elements that will be different in the future.

Best Practices are what we teach in school. Those who live by Best Practices will find themselves perfectly equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. Accomplishment always happens in the future.

Agreements with Others

Every agreement you make with other people, you ultimately make with yourself. When you cheat other people, you ultimately cheat yourself. When you break a promise to other people, you teach your brain to mistrust your own intentions. You sow the seeds of self doubt. You undermine your own strength and integrity.

Agreements you keep with yourself, that are invisible to others, are the most powerful because they are pure. They sow the seeds of self confidence on a foundation of integrity.

Sustained Achievement

What is the function of management? I often ask.

In organizations, we design roles for people to play. So, what is the role of management?

Every employee is entitled to have a competent manager, with the time span capability to bring value to their problem solving and decision making.

I once asked the definition of an entrepreneur. I was sternly instructed that an entrepreneur is that person who creates an organization that leverages the skills and talents of other people to create something that no one individual could produce on their own.

And, so it is with a manager. That person who leverages the skills and talents of other people to create something that no one individual could produce on their own.

Individual achievement is a myth. The truly great works of mankind are nestled in the collective works of people transformed from a group to a team. Sustained achievement is the collective work of people, transformed from a team to an organization, that continues to create beyond the original ideas of the founder.

Required Behaviors

For many things in an organization, we document our methods and processes in writing, call them standard operating procedures. SOPs codify the required behaviors in the work that we do together.

Culture is different, because it is mostly an unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior in the work that we do together.

It is always a good idea to have alignment between your standard operating procedures (written), and your culture (unwritten). Because, wherever there is a discrepancy, culture always wins.

Or You Can Be Curious

If you are in situation with another person, who disagrees with you, you can respond in one of two ways. You can be frustrated that they disagree. You can attempt to persuade them to your way of thinking. You can impugn their intelligence.

Or you can be curious. What led them to their position of disagreement? What evidence do they see in the world that you don’t see? What other people did they listen to, that influenced their thinking? What consequences might occur if their position turns out to be a better description of reality?

Whose Idea Is It, Anyway?

“But, I am the manager. Everyone is counting on me,” Bryce pushed back.

“Then, why are you in here, by yourself?” I asked.

“I have a problem to solve. It’s a serious problem. Everyone is counting on me to solve the problem. It is my responsibility.”

“Is it your responsibility to solve the problem with the best solution you can come up with, or the best solution to the problem? Have you thought about stepping outside yourself, asking for help, other perspectives? Yes, you are accountable for the best solution, but, no one said it had to be your idea.”

Waiting For Your Ship to Come In?

“What’s new?” I asked.

“Just waiting for my ship to come in,” explained Raphael.

“How long have you been waiting?”

“Long time.”

“How do you know your ship will, indeed, come in?”

Raphael looked puzzled.

“Did you send any out?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” Raphael replied.

“For your ship to come in, first, you have to send some out.”