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Promises, Promises

Leadership is a risky proposition at the best of times. Those that “sign up” to be in leadership roles have agreed to take a lot on their backs and shoulders. Being a leader isn’t for everyone but if you have accepted the leadership challenge, then it is incumbent on you to embrace the role and be the best leader that you can be. Because I believe whole heartedly in developing and supporting leaders, a significant chunk of my blog is devoted to helping leaders become better at what they do. Often what I share is based on lessons learned in my job, my career, my experiences and discussions with others.

Broken Promises

One of the big pitfalls I have seen leaders fall into (often newer leaders, but not always) is that in their exuberance to want to “make a difference” they often over promise and under deliver. Now, my experience has been that that is done with the best of intentions. Meaning, in their role as a leader, they want to effect change, make their imprint on things and do things better for their team/department/organization. Often when they are new to their environment, their excitement and enthusiasm to “improve things” gets the better of them as they try and change everything in the near term.

The danger here is that these leaders bring a sense of great hope with them. For example, a department has been run for years by someone with a micromanaging style with no vision for the future and no focus on developing talent. This person is then replaced with a new leader, one who brings an exciting vision for the future and a renewed employee focus. The employees get excited, energized and (re) engaged. There is optimism and hope abound. The leader asks for their trust and faith to be placed in him/her as they change the way things were. Promises are made and expectations are set. Then…the bubble bursts.

Often these new team/departmental/organizational leaders do not have the actual autonomy and authority to make the promises (changes) that they have articulated to their staff. They had the best of intentions but ran into some form of bureaucracy, or senior management control. Worse yet, they have run into the oversight of a Board of Directors that refuses to take a hit (read: investment) to their near term cash flow in order to make the company even better longer term. The end result – the new leader is now compromised in their role after having rolled out a platform of hope.

Now, the struggle is that the employees are told formally or informally that all those promises that were made now need to be tempered. The danger is that this often results in cynicism at best, disengagement at worst. You can almost feel and hear the collective “here we go again” emanate from the staff.

So, my advice for new leaders in that type of situation is to make sure you have a clear understanding of your operating boundaries and parameters before you make promises to employees. Better yet, the old adage of control the controllable’s best applies when first starting out with a new team. That is, promises of things like, better communication, regular coaching, more rigor around quality control, etc. will get you more traction. Employees aren’t looking for the sun, the moon and the stars from you when you first come out of the gate as a new leader. BUT, if you promise that to them, you better be able to deliver. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Picture courtesy of vimeo.com



(Em)Power to the People!

I recently was asked to provide a reference for a former employee of mine. No big deal, right; however, I found the person asking the questions to be very engaging because they really knew the job and were able to link the reference questions directly to the job. I really liked this approach because for once, I could give a reference that was 100% relevant to the job at hand. The job in question was for an HR Manager type role, and the referee was trying to get a feel for whether or not there was a cultural fit with the job and the person. After having described what they were looking for, I was asked the following question, “Based on the position described, and your experience with ‘Jamie’, what do you think is the most important thing that ‘Jamie’ will require in order to be successful in this role?”

empowerWow – what a great question I thought! Knowing that Jamie had applied for a management, (re. leadership) role, and knowing that ‘Jamie’ is a very driven and outcomes focused person who is a top performer, I told the referee that ‘Jamie’ must be given the autonomy to do the job. It was as simple, or as difficult, as that. This organization was hiring someone to take on a leadership role. Therefore, they needed to give the person they were going to hire the autonomy to do the job effectively. Far too often organizations say they want leaders, they hire the ‘right’ person, and then they micromanage them until they become a turnover statistic.

I proceeded to engage the referee in further dialogue (ok, I probably pontificated a bit) about why this element of autonomy/empowerment was so important. I told them that Jamie, much like other top performers, needs to see the big picture. They need to see that connection between what they do and where the organization they work for is going. As well, because they were hiring someone for a leadership role, they needed to provide the big picture in terms of what the broader organization and department goals were or what was being worked towards so that Jamie could then fashion this into departmental, team and individual goals.

The real lesson here for all of us as managers, leaders and HR Pros is to understand that it is so important when leading (and coaching) our people that we define the vision and a partial end state for employees – true performers will take this and run with it. Once your key folks have formulated their own goals, with some input and support from you, you need to stand back and let them run. Keep in mind, this formula is only going to work if you ultimately hold them accountable for their results. Therefore, once goals and objectives are set, make sure you have a way of measuring success – whether it be objectively (metrics) or subjectively (feedback and observation) and then hold them accountable for delivering.

I share this (longer than intended) story with you as a way of highlighting why providing autonomy and empowerment to the people working for you is so critical. Employees generally want to do a good job for you as their manager. Given the proper direction and guidance, they also don’t mind being held accountable for their performance. In fact, it has been my experience, that in order to retain and engage top performers, the elements of autonomy, empowerment and accountability need to formulate a major part of the employer/employee relationship. You need to give top talent the broad parameters within which to operate, than wind them up and let them go! Your job, as their manager, is to coach, support, remove obstacles, hold them accountable and then recognize and reward your people for their results.

What do you think? Is providing the right level of autonomy and empowering your top talent the best way to retain and engage them? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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