Fear in the Workplace

Long before I founded Midwest Consulting Group in 1990 I worked in a variety of organizations in management roles. One thing I noticed was the presence of people who seemed to be in fear much of the time. I came to understand that Fear is a reality in many working environments. You may define workplace fear differently, but what I sensed and saw were some of the following fears:

  • Fear my boss will fire me; I could be without a job, lose my house, etc.
  • Fear people will realize I don’t really know what I’m doing.
  • Fear others will think my ideas are silly or unworkable.
  • Fear I’ll be viewed as not a “team player” if I disagree with plans or priorities.
  • Fear I’ll make a bad decision, support an unsuccessful initiative, or chose the “wrong side” in disputes within the team.
  • Fear of . . . some unknown something that might happen someday.

Recently I worked with a nonprofit arts organization where most of the above fears seemed to be operating. Even the director exhibited some level of fear. As you can imagine, the atmosphere and energy around the group was decidedly negative; people were constantly watching their back.

In “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” Freedom from Fear is described as the “foundation” of Skill 3 – Building Successful Relationships. When the relationship is one based on Fear, the higher-level aspects – honesty, trust, personal interaction, acceptance, good communication, development and growth, mutual benefit – simply cannot happen.

Over the next several posts we’ll examine the components of successful relationships. As our colleague and coach Mary Jo Asmus says, “It’s all about the relationships.”

Paul

The Many Hats You Wear

From time to time it’s helpful to think about the multiple roles we play as a manager; it’s one of the reasons why the job is so challenging. And if we want to do it really well it can be a life-long endeavor. The typical roles most supervisors and managers play include the following:

  • Coordinator, planner, organizer
  • Teacher
  • Coach
  • Technical expert
  • Culture developer & keeper
  • Interpreter
  • Decision maker
  • Communicator
  • Quality guide & monitor
  • Team member
  • Team leader
  • Relationship builder

Recently we looked at the related roles of Teacher and Coach. Today I’d like to focus on the roles of Interpreter and Decision Maker.

Interpreter – Every organization develops routines and standards. From the gas station or shoe shop on the corner to the biggest governmental agency . . . from the local storefront church to the billion-dollar worldwide nonprofit agency . . . all organizations have rules, policies, and procedures. They may be formal and written or they may be informal and unwritten.

Whatever those rules are, as a manager you’re responsible for teaching, guiding, interpreting, and explaining the rules to each of your team members. What are the rules, policies, and procedures in our organization? How do we do the work and why do we do it that way? Merely handing down the rules and explaining how to carry them out isn’t enough; people need to know why so they can truly understand “how we do things around here.” Once they understand the what, how, and why, they’ll be much more likely to do what needs to be done in the way it should be done.

Decision Maker – Managers make decisions all the time. Who to hire . . . what to have them do . . . what tasks take priority over others . . . which team members should attend a new training program first . . . when to start doing something new . . . when to stop doing something that has been done in the past. Making decisions is part of every manager’s daily life.

Some of us enjoy making decisions, seek opportunities to make decisions, and make them quickly. Others seem to struggle with making even the simplest decision. They postpone, waffle, beat around the bush, and change their mind a dozen times.

Over time and with practice, you’re likely to get more comfortable with this role. You’ll see that making decisions too quickly can lead to consequences you hadn’t thought of. At other times you’ll need to make a decision quickly, before you miss an opportunity. Shoot from the hip? Sleep on it? Regardless of how you tend to handle them, as a manager you must make decisions.

When you interpret the organization’s rules, policies, and practices you provide crucial guidance that affects team performance. When you make decisions about what the team will do and where it will focus its attention, you’re helping determine the team’s direction and priorities.Understanding the true nature and scope of the job of the manager is critical to your success. And ultimately your success has a direct bearing on the success of your team and your entire organization.

 Paul

Pres. Eisenhower’s Gift to Managers

If there is one thing General Dwight Eisenhower learned during his military career it was this simple fact: the only person responsible for getting the job done, no matter what that job may be, is you!

That’s why “Managing Yourself” is Skill 1 in The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers. If you can’t manage yourself – your workload, your projects, your tasks . . . then how can you be successful at managing others?

Long before he become Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe prior to D-Day 1944 he began to use what eventually became called “The Eisenhower Box.” When Stephen Covey modified it in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” he called it the “Four Quadrants”

Whatever you choose to call it, the Eisenhower Box has two Axis: Urgent and Important. Using this matrix you can classify nearly everything you have on your plate as falling in one of four categories:

  • Urgent & Important – Things you must do – critical issues that command your attention
  • Urgent & Not Important – Things you can delegate to someone else
  • Important & Not Urgent – Thing you must decide about – who & when?
  • Not Important & Not Urgent – Things you can delete; not do; forget about

Eisenhower used this matrix every day, listing the issues he had in front of him on this form. Then he used this approach to help him manage himself every day, whether he was General Eisenhower or President Eisenhower.

Give this simple yet powerful tool a test drive for a couple of weeks. Where would you place all the projects and tasks on our plate right now? What are you committed to accomplish in the next week? What could you delegate to someone else on your team who is read for a new challenge? What could just be dumped in the circular file as not worth the effort? After all, it’s up to you to determine what you will do today, tomorrow, and beyond.

Paul

 

 

Managing Your “Boss”

I need to make a confession. Frankly, I’m biased against the term “boss.” It’s an old label from the days when the person in charge of a crew or group of workers really did “boss” them around. “Do this! Do that! Do it this way!” Although there are settings or situations when having someone clearly in command makes good sense – first responders in emergencies and military combat come to mind – the term is really outmoded today. Still, it is short, easy to say, and everyone knows what you mean when you refer to “my boss” as the person you report to within your organization.

The relationship with your own boss is one of the most important work relationships you have. When you and your boss are generally on the same page, have good rapport, and communicate reasonably well, you’re much more likely to enjoy your job. On the other hand, if your relationship with your boss is strained, you don’t have good communication, and your ideas about how to get things done are substantially different, your daily interactions can quickly become conflict-ridden and, well, a grind.

What kinds of expectations do you think your boss has of you? What are the things you generally do to keep your boss in the loop? Some expectations a manager might have of you as their direct report are pretty universal, such as “Know your responsibilities and carry them out effectively without a lot of detailed instructions.”

What other specific expectations do you think your manager has? If you aren’t sure, maybe it’s time to ask – having a conversation about what you think they expect and what they actually do expect might be a highly useful discussion. After all, if you aren’t clear about what is expected, it’s going to be difficult to be effective as a supervisor or manager.

We live in a world that’s dynamic, fluid, and fast-paced. Priorities change and external events present new challenges. Try sitting down with your boss. Say to them, “Here are the things I’m currently working on. Here’s my perspective on what you expect of me in my current role. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page about priorities and whether you think I’m focusing on the right things.”

Help your boss manage you. It might just be the most important thing you do this year.

What do you think?

Paul

Promoted In Place

The long-time supervisor of your team will be retiring a couple of months from now, and you’ve been selected as their successor. Congratulations! You are about to move into your first supervision job. It’s exciting and scary at the same time, especially since you will be supervising a group of people who have been your peers for the past several years. You’re about to be promoted in place. When you move from being “one of the gang” to a supervisory role, you can expect to experience some (or maybe many) challenges. These could include:

  • How quickly you adjust to what good performance meant for you as a team member and what it means now as a supervisor
  • How well team members understand your new role, and their willingness to accept and support your new duties
  • How well you understand and adapt to the workload and pace associated with the responsibilities of your new job
  • How well you understand and deal with the uncertainty, ambiguity, and need for multitasking associated with your new role
  • How quickly you learn important administrative tasks that you aren’t prepared for or experienced in
  • How well you handle the wide variety of human resources, interpersonal communication, and people-focused issues that are part of your new job

If this sounds daunting, it should. The skills and behaviors that made you an effective member of the team – one of “us” – are not necessarily the same skills and behaviors required to be an effective supervisor. And regardless of how close and how strong your relationships are with your teammates, those relationships will change once you become their supervisor. Still, with good communications, particularly good listening and a commitment to lead the team rather than “boss” the team, you can be successful when you are promoted in place. What’s been your experience?

Paul

Perry Smith’s Powerful Phrase

In the late 1990’s I had the pleasure of teaching in George Washington University’s executive programs. And that’s where I got to know Perry Smith. As a retired Maj. General, author of numerous books, veteran of 180 combat flights in SE Asia, fighter wing commander, former director of strategic planning for the U.S. Air Force, former commandant of the National War College, Ph.D., former military expert of major TV networks, and all around high-level thinker, Perry is an interesting guy to be around. He is definitely not your average kinda guy.

Perry’s a great guy for checklists; things to handle, work on, get better at, pay attention to . . . One of his “useful phrases for leaders” that has stuck with me is a simple yet incredibly profound statement:

“Help me discipline my In-Basket; don’t send me issues you are competent to decide.”

Think about the implications of his statement and what it says to your employees. It works well on several levels:

  • It says, “There are issues that fall within the scope of your job and expertise, and I think you can figure out which issues those are and what needs to be done about them.”
  • It says, “I’m confident in your ability to make good decisions on those issues and implement them.”
  • It says, “When you face an issue that you think I can help with, let me know how I can best do that.”
  • It even says, “You decide what to keep me informed about and when to do so.”

What an affirming, empowering viewpoint!

How many times have you said to yourself, “it’s just easier for me to do this myself than to take the time to teach someone how to do it.” What would it take for you to honestly be able to say Perry’s phrase instead of yours?

Paul

PS – now a young 81, Perry has always reminded me of the Energizer Bunny; he just keeps on going. If you want to learn more about this remarkable man, take a look at his website.

What If the Answer is “No?”

We seem to have this notion that becoming a supervisor or stepping into a middle management position is an irrevocable shift from being “one of us” to becoming “one of them.” Certainly our formal organizations – corporations, universities, government agencies seem to work that way. Many nonprofits too, for that matter; especially the large ones.

Supervising and managing is, frankly, not for everybody. And yet our organizations are set up in a way that basically says, “If you want to make more money and have a more secure future for your family, you need to become a manager.” I guess that may make sense to those that run larger organizations; certainly it was the path I chose for much of my career, since I worked in large organizations.

Suppose you’ve stuck your toe in the “supervision pond” and maybe even jumped in with both feet. There’s lots to like about management, but perhaps you miss the thing that brought you to the organization in the first place. Maybe that was direct contact with customers or clientele. Maybe it was the hands-on “making” of something; you, creating something of value. So where is it written that when you become a manager you no longer can do the things that attracted you in the first place?

I think it makes great sense for every supervisor, every manager, to stay in touch with their roots. Keep a hand in the game, an oar in the water to make sure you are connected to the folks that make it happen out there every day; the people making the products, delivering the services.

In the University world, presidents often make sure they continue to teach a class or two in their field, CEO’s take time to get out of the executive suite and see what’s going on in the trenches. Managers make sure they keep connected to their core interest by spending time with their sleeves rolled up.

Makes sense to me. What do you think?

Paul

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