Recently, I shared a few thoughts on how to create a more trustful relationship with the boss. Today, I thought it’d be useful to think about some of the issues that disrupt that important relationship. And to come at it thinking about enlightenment for the leader.
Because as a leader, it can be a rarity to get open and honest feedback from your team on your performance as their boss. For obvious reasons – although maybe it shouldn’t be so. Because it’s just so valuable.
I remember one time, taking-over the lead of a very well-established in-house team. And a couple of weeks in, I got a “tough love” conversation from the two longest-standing team members on what wasn’t working and what needed to change. It was gold dust. (Thank you: JJ and TJ!)
Most leaders and managers are not as lucky as I was to get deeply useful and timely feedback. More usual is to hear only after the fact (failure on a key project, team members leaving, the leader being “moved on”) – or just not at all!
So, here are 3 categories of often-heard complaints about you, the boss. And some thoughts on the proactive steps you might take to ensure you’re doing what you can, in the absence of feedback.
The first area I want to conduct a thorough leadership self-check is competency. None of us can work well with a superior who we view as incompetent. There’s just no respect there – and so, every opportunity to follow their lead is a struggle. No wonder “lacking competence” is one of the most common complaints of bosses.
My first self-leadership question, then, is to reflect on what I bring to the team, in my role as a leader.
I’m there to lead and manage, not execute the final tasks. So, my weighting of competency is going to be heavily in favour of leadership skill, not technical skill. I want both – but only enough technical skill to talk the language of my execution teams, understand contexts and make sound decisions. Perhaps that’s 90% leadership, 10% technical. Or perhaps it’s a different weighting, if I’m in a particularly technical sector. But I start by getting clear on what I bring to the team – and then conducting my competency assessment from there.
And now that I’m clear on where I bring most value to the team, I want to think about how my competency is showing up (or not!) in 4 distinct paradigms:
- Organised vs. Chaotic. Take a long, deep breath. Slowly let it out. And how you feel right now: that’s how your team want to feel, during and after a session with you, their leader. Are you rush, rush, rush, trying to cram everything and everyone in? Or are you gliding through work, crystal clear on priorities and calmly actions-focused? Which approach are you modelling for your team?
- Effective vs. Ineffective. This is about the ability to deliver results. And to do so with the best use of resources. Ask yourself: “Am I delivering results? Am I helping my team to deliver results? And am I doing that without causing harm, elsewhere?”
- Decisive vs. Indecisive. How would your team describe your decision-making skills, if I asked? Sit with that thought for a moment. Because you already know what outstanding decision-making looks like. And how it is to work for someone who exhibits that discipline. Where are you strong? What are your well-developed go-to areas? And what needs focus and improvement?
- Credible vs. Lacking Respect. Credibility is a culmination of all the above (including foundational leadership and technical skills) AND how you show-up. Think brand. Think: “What am I known for? What do I stand for? What’s my promise?” And consider the level at which your operating. Does it match and exceed what’s required from your role, team and organisation? Or do you need to elevate that self-concept so that others view you as credible?
It can be deeply frustrating to work for someone who is inflexible. Particularly if you’re someone who is used to contributing new ideas or someone who likes to show initiative, it’s going to be a tricky working relationship. And even if you’re not someone who operates that way, these are two characteristics we’re continually encouraged to do more of. So, a frustrating setup, whichever way you come at it.
And of course, it’s just as frustrating to work for someone who is at the other end of the flexibility scale: that is, unable to make timely decisions, preferring to stay in consultation for too long. So, as a leader who wants to check-in on his or her own flexibility, I want to acknowledge this is always going to be a balance: between listening to others and incorporating ideas vs. being very strong on the leadership agenda and providing direction.
So, let’s reflect on where I might be as a leader, by looking at both ends of the flexibility scale:
- Rigidly Inflexible. Am I an overly-controlling boss? That is, I fail to demonstrate enough flexibility. Take a moment to see it from your staff’s perspective. Do they have feel like they have room to manoeuvre? Do their ideas get air time? And if you are indeed lacking in flexibility, ask yourself: “What need is my desire-for-control serving? What is the positive intention behind my behaviours?” Reflect on how else could you achieve those aims.
- Overly Flexible. Am I too hands-off or non-committal as a boss? That it, I am just too flexible. And where is that playing-out as progress-stifling indecision. Or as expensive decision reversals? If you find yourself being overly-flexible, consider whether that’s driven by personal ego – a want to be liked, rather than respected; or to avoid conflict. Or by the hierarchical system – are you yourself not getting the commitment you need from your senior leadership? Consider what needs to change for you to strike a more positive flexibility balance.
“Repression” might sound at first like a strong word of complaint for our boss. But we are all familiar with the poor leadership behaviours that this group of complaints refers to: little interest in developing or showcasing the talents of the team.
Why would we, as leaders, indulge in repressive behaviours? After all: a team encouraged to take greater responsibility, to show initiative and to play to its strengths is going to be a highly-productive team – and likely, a highly-motivated team. There are 3 primary reasons we might exhibit these tendencies, however unconscious:
- Insecurity. A lack of confidence in our own abilities as a leader, making it challenging to let the team enjoy its high performance.
- Overly Task-focused. Seeing the “people stuff” as an inconvenient hassle atop the “real” (task-based) work.
- Risk Aversion. Playing out as the “control freak” who can’t delegate for fear it won’t be done right (or: as well as I would). Trust is your issue, here.
Whatever our underlying issue, the final outcome is the same: a stagnating and increasingly frustrated team. And as a leader, our opportunity for growth is stunted, too!
So, complete a self-check against the charge of “Repression”.
Use the 3 common subconscious drivers to renew your empowerment focus: work on your own confidence, prioritise the “people stuff” and get back to engendering your trust in the team. Take that view that the success of your team is a credit to (among other things) your leadership. And enjoy the positive challenge that, as your team elevates itself, you too must elevate your own standards.
A final thought
Of course, the best way to address these issues is to create the kind of team culture and environment where it’s safe for your team to share feedback with you, their leader. What small action could you take today, to kick-off a positive shift in this direction, in your team environment?