I just read this awesome article from Jeff Schmitt at BusinessWeek, A Frank Talk With You, Boss. Please do click on this link and read it. It should be posted everywhere. Jeff succinctly laid out 28 ways managers fall short, with pictures too. Click on each picture for detail explanation.
Maybe we can make posters out of each of the cartoons and frame them like the ones that they sell at www.despair.com. I am not advertising for them. I just love their honesty.
Here are what I see as the complexities in helping bosses realize that they are falling short.
1. As human being one of our top fears is FAILURE, especially failing in public. So every boss wonders about their success as a leader, but are afraid to find out. Because finding out would mean one might have to admit to failing at some level.
Their ego blocks them from the pain of the truth, so they don’t ask, don’t admit it, and can’t ask for help. The truth might be too detrimental to bear.
What makes the dynamic even more complicated is that as human beings, we are unaware that our ego is doing this. This is a human condition. We don’t know that we are afraid, and that our ego is trying to protect us. Most of the time, we are busy dealing with life and having reaction, without being consciously aware of the reason underneath.
2. Most people around them are afraid to be honest. First of all people are afraid of conflict. That is our natural instinct. And to tell someone they are not doing a good job, that is one of the top 5 ways to create conflict. There are so many risks in telling the truth, especially to a bad boss who doesn’t want to hear it, is like committing career suicidal.
3. Most people don’t know how to have these hard conversations, in a way that is healthy. So they usually avoid, sugar coat, gossip (not address it directly), tell jokes, be sarcastic, resign, or at worst case blow up the place.
As you can see it takes lots of COURAGE to change a bad boss, both for the boss and for the people around them. For someone to hear that they are not cutting it as a boss, it is DETRIMENTAL to their ego. So we need to support them:
1. We must remember that underneath all of the bad behaviors is an individual who is wanting to contribute. They are AFRAID: afraid of the truth, afraid of not cutting it, afraid to be fired, afraid that they don’t know how, afraid, afraid, afraid. So it is our job (the brave feedback deliverers) must muster up all the compassion that we have inside us, and give that to them. If you come from LOVE, you can say anything and they can hear it. If you come from judgment and and disapproval, you don’t have to open your mouth and they will shut down.
2. We need to beef up on our ability to CHAMPION them. After you deliver their short coming, you have to be able to right them back up emotionally. It’s not codling, nor is it a brief pat on the back “there, there, you are ok.” It’s a sincere place that you know inside what they are capable of. So yes, dear feedback deliverers, you must be able to see a glimpse of their possibility as a leader, beyond the icky behaviors. AND you must TELL them, remind them, make sure that they hear you in the midst of their break down.
Now for the other side: Bosses, when someone muster up the courage to tell you the truth either by their resignation or an elusive comment on some 360 feedback form, go and THANK them. Make sure they are safe to tell you this. Of course I realize that most bad bosses probably wont be reading my blog. But anyway, let me just speak to those of you who do read my blog. Anytime someone gives you a comment or feedback, please remember that this is very scary for them. Please reassure them that you appreciate them for doing this, or for giving you this gift. Do not “Yea, BUT” Do not say anything with a “but” in it! I mean it.
So the skills that are important in receiving are:
1. Appreciation and affirmation that they are safe in doing this.
2. When you can’t hear anymore, you may say “Thank you, but this is tough for me to hear. I need to go and ponder this.” Another word “ENOUGH, I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE” You get to be gentle with yourself, have clear boundary so that you can survive the feedback.
And last but not least, please go talk to your coach about this. It may be self serving here. But your coach will help you process the information much gentler and easier than what your critical mind will do to you. So save yourself, call your coach.