There is no doubt that those in a position of power have the ability to make or break an organisation, its culture and its people. Sadly, some of those entrusted with this responsibility use their team members in unhealthy and self-serving ways. Let me share an example with you.
We recently worked with a leadership team where a culture of martyrdom existed – who worked the longest hours, who had the more difficult customer base, the highest sales targets and who had the most dysfunctional team member to deal with. The last of these resulted in individual team members being branded as ‘trouble’ and none of the other managers wished to have them on their team.
During the course of our work within this organisation, one of the ‘problematic’ team members came to our attention, while coaching his manager. Of course, we chose to form our own opinion. What we found was one of the most dedicated, authentic and committed employees we had had the pleasure of meeting. Were there some behavioural gaps, indeed there were, however, these were manageable with the right leadership approach and paled by comparison to his contribution to the business unit. Sadly a series of managers had both benefited from his commitment and used him to play the ‘my team is tougher than your team’ game, hence he had quite a reputation.
After speaking with the manager, we decided to work together to change this dynamic. We worked to build and strengthen the following three aspects of his leadership.
When you’re in a position of trust team members will often share personal challenges, fears and concerns, they rely on you to treat this information with respect. This trust is strengthened when you are seen to also keep the confidences of others. What do we mean? That you don’t gossip or share other colleague’s stories or share corporate secrets. Part of the dysfunctional aspect of the culture we initially walked into was based on building relationships through sharing stories and secrets that managers had no right to be sharing. The outcome of this behaviour was – diminished trust.
So one of the key shifts was to have this manager stop sharing stories and information he had no right to be sharing, both within his team and with his peers. This included no tales about his team member’s poor behaviour. Of course, this did not rule out asking for help from his manager or from us as consultants in which case he did need to share his concern to gain the appropriate support.
A team led by a consistent manager should be able to take a ‘best guess’ at their manager’s response to routine business issues and decisions. This means in the absence of the manager an experienced team member should be able to deal with routine issues that arise and make decisions without fear.
The other component of a consistent leader is their ability to give timely and appropriate feedback and support. Individuals within the team know they can rely on their manager to support them and that when constructive feedback is required it will be delivered in a firm and fair way with plenty of opportunities to ask questions and seek coaching to modify the behaviour.
The manager found that when he took this approach the team member was both extremely coachable and open and willing to learn a new way. Not only that, the team member demonstrated the new learning within their role and began to proactively ask for feedback and coaching.
The next step was the manager learning to be an advocate for his team, speaking about individual team member’s achievements and contributions to meetings with peers and when speaking to his line manager. He quickly learned that their success was also an indication of his success in engaging and developing his team.
Whilst this is a summary of what happened over a period of time, the outcome was a happier and more effective leader, a lift in team member engagement and improved business outcomes.
The story doesn’t finish there. By the time our work was complete with this organisation, the manager had accepted a promotion and the initially ‘dysfunctional’ team member was successful in winning his position.
What we find in our work is that the majority of leaders and team members want to work to the best of their ability, they’re keen for success and will accept and respond positively to support offered in the appropriate way. And what we most definitely know is that a dynamic leader NEVER builds their reputation at someone else’s expense.