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.
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.
Chase left our conversation abruptly. Across the plant floor, he had spotted a problem and rushed to make a correction. He was apologetic on his return. “Sorry, but that is why I called you today. I feel like a two armed octopus. There are eight things that need to happen, but I can only work on two problems at a time. Things get out of control about fifteen minutes into the day. And they never stop. At the end of the day, I look at my boss’ list of projects and the important things never seem to get worked on. There is always a crisis.”
“Not really,” I said. “To me, your system is working exactly the way it was designed to work.”
Chase was puzzled. “What do you mean? It’s not working at all.”
“No, it is working exactly the way it is designed to work. The design of your day’s work is to drink coffee for the first fifteen minutes, then run around the floor solving urgent problems. At the end of each day, you check the list to make sure you didn’t do anything important.”
I paused. “Not a bad design. How’s that working for you?” Chase didn’t like what he was hearing.
“If you want to change your day, you have to change your design for the day. I see about four major design changes you might want to consider, but let’s start with just one. Don’t let anyone work during the first fifteen minutes of the day. Instead have a huddle meeting around the boss’ list of important projects. That one design change will be a good start.”
How is your day designed?
An event is anything that gets our attention. An event, at work, is any decision or problem that gets our attention. Decisions and problems present themselves as isolated events, yet they exist inside a context. That context will have significant bearing on the outcome of the decision and the solution to the problem.
When we measure the context in terms of time, or timespan, we gain insight into the impact of the decision made or the problem solved.
We can certainly walk from point A to point B. And to carry a payload, we are limited to our backs. In the long term, if we are to carry many payloads, we may want to invest in a vehicle to carry each payload. The timespan of the decision indicates its impact.
If we are to carry many payloads in our vehicle faster over a longer period of time, we may want to invest in a road. If we want to go faster, we may top that road with smooth asphalt. If we want the smooth asphalt to remain smooth with minimum repair, over time, we may invest in a strong sub-structure for the road. The timespan of the decision indicates its impact.
Still, we can certainly walk from point A to point B.
It is the role of management to think about longer timespan impact at higher levels of work.
As the team left the room, Mandy had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. There were lots of promises from her team, but in her heart, she knew that only ten percent of the project would be complete on time. It was, as if, Mandy should stand on a chair and scream at the top of her lungs, “I really, really mean it this time. We have to get this stuff done.”
Those of us who have children know the futility of standing on chairs and demanding. It is pretty entertaining for the children, but hardly effective.
In what way could Mandy create an atmosphere to drive higher performance toward the goals set by the team? If standing on chairs and screaming doesn’t do it, what does? Most Managers are not aware of, or do not leverage team accountability. Managers assume the role of the bad guy and essentially let the team off the hook when it comes to holding each other to account for performance.
Turn the tables. In your next meeting, when a team member reports non-performance or underperformance, stop the agenda. Ask each team member to take a piece of paper and write down how this underperformance impacts their part of the project. Go around the table and ask each person to share that impact in one sentence. Around the table once again, ask the team to create an expectation of how the underperformance should be corrected. Finally, ask the underperformer to respond to the team and make a public commitment to action.
Team members, holding each other to account is a very powerful dynamic.
Apoplectic, enraged, irate, spitting mad. That described how Theo felt during his brief encounter with Brad. Two weeks ago, they sat in a delegation meeting, everything according to plan. But here they were, three hours to deadline and the project had not been started. Theo’s ears rang as Brad defended himself, “But you never came by to check on the project, I thought it wasn’t important anymore. So, I never started it. You should have said something.”
Lack of follow-up kills projects. In the chaos of the impending deadline, the manager gets caught up, personally starts, works and finishes the project, often with the team standing by, watching.
One small change dramatically changes the way this delegation plays out.
Follow-up. Schedule not one, not two, but, three or four quick follow-up meetings to ensure the project is on track. Segment the project, and schedule the follow-up meetings right up front, in the planning stages of the project. Check-ins are more likely to happen if they are on the calendar.
From the Ask Tom mailbag –
I was recently promoted as lead tech of a lab. My boss feels I undermine her for things I do without discussing them with her first. I explained directions for another technician, so she could speak to patients with more clarity. I was told I undermined my boss because of this. I asked our director, in front of my boss, if she was aware of an issue and I was told that I undermined my boss because I asked without consulting her first. I wonder if it’s a lack of trust or if I undermine her without meaning to?
Yes. It is both a lack of trust and you undermine your manager without meaning to. The solution is in the question. You must build trust AND stop undermining your manager. In your new role, you have new and specific accountability and authority. Unfortunately, these are rarely defined and that is where the trouble begins.
You have appropriate accountability and authority and your manager has a larger (longer time span) accountability and authority. Your manager is working in a longer time span context, aware of things you may not know. This is why the manager-team member relationship is so important (and often fragile).
Monthly 1-1 conversations with your manager work to bridge that gap. For you, in your role, to be in alignment with your manager, you have to understand the larger context of your manager. The only way to find out is to talk about it.
Following is an example of discussion elements for your next 1-1 with your manager.
Whose Decision Is It?
With accountability, comes authority. Whose decision is it? Is it yours or your manager’s? If you don’t talk about it, you won’t know. Here is a framework for the discussion.
- Which decisions are reserved exclusively to my manager?
- Which decisions are reserved to my manager, AND based on my input?
- Which decisions are mine, but have to be discussed and approved by my manager?
- Which decisions are mine, but I have to tell my manager before I pull the trigger?
- Which decisions are mine, but I have to tell my manager, after I pull the trigger?
- Which decisions are mine, and I don’t have to tell my manager?
As a new lead technician, you have new accountability and new authority. That new authority has to be defined.
The only person who can hold you accountable is YOU. Invite and give permission to others to examine and challenge your commitments, AND understand that you are the only one who can keep those commitments. The only accountability is self-accountability.
We cannot hold people accountable, we can only hold people to account.
This is not a nuance of language. Holding others accountable is a myth. We cannot hold others accountable. We can only examine and challenge commitments. We can only hold people to account, to themselves for the commitments they make with themselves.
The armed and dangerous team tackles the tough issues. Its members run toward the fire, not away from it. Armed and dangerous teams become comfortable with discomfort. The pit of discomfort often holds the real issue.
When a team is comfortable and in total agreement, there is high likelihood they are not dealing with an issue of high consequence. It is only when there is disagreement and debate, where the team is in discomfort, that important issues are on the table.
Elliott’s Four Absolutes, required for success in a role (any role, no matter the discipline), here is the list.
- Capability (measured in Time Span)
- Skill (technical knowledge and practiced performance)
- Interest, passion (value for the work)
- Required behaviors
Required behaviors, with three strings.
- Contracted behaviors
Today is about habits.
When I interview a candidate, I look at the role description, identify the critical role requirements and those habits that support those role requirements. We all have habits that support our success, we all have habits that detract from our success.
Habits are those routine grooved behaviors that we lean on during times of decision, times of problem solving and times of stress. Some habits, we lean on, even if those behaviors were not successful in the past. Habits are familiar, habits require less brain power. Habits are a short cut to decision making and problem solving. In the face of urgency, we lean on our habits.
As a hiring manager, interviewing a candidate, we can anticipate the problems to be solved and the decisions to be made in the role. The question is, what are the habits that contribute to success, what are the habits that detract from success?
We all think we choose our success. We do not. The only thing we choose are our habits, and it is our habits that determine our success.