The Leader / Employee Divide: Who’s Managing Who?

One of the biggest challenges for any manager or leader is the relationship they have with their team members.

We often read about the need for leaders to be open, self-aware, honest and possess similar traits.

But what about the employee? What is their responsibility?

Managing people and teams is challenging, there is no doubt. Understanding why people do what they do and behave in certain ways can reduce the challenge and assist in managing situations as they arise.

The responsibility to influence outputs amongst different roles may vary, however the level of responsibility and commitment required from a manager or employee remains the same. It is the context of the role and associated tasks that differ, not the degree of ownership that is required. I remain certain that this is not how accountability and ownership is presented and reinforced in most organisations. I sometimes see employees manipulating, displaying passive-aggressive behaviours and generally playing games to get what they want or influence their peers.

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Passive-aggressive behaviour is the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, stubbornness, sullen behaviour, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.(1) This is not always the employees ‘fault’. As organisations and leaders we are required to clearly establish the standards, expectations, culture and support to give the best opportunity for success of the individual and business.

When coaching and consulting, I encourage my clients to first look at themselves and the world they have created to see if that is in fact, the reason why an employee is ‘misbehaving’. The risk is that we hold others accountable for things that were not clearly established or understood in the first place. In my experience, very few people wake up in the morning with the attitude that they intend to ruin everyone’s day.

As leaders we need to be able to comfortably acknowledge that we have created the best chance to get the best out of every employee. Looking at ourselves first is important, however ultimately these behaviours are a choice and often reflect character flaws and sometimes other, larger issues.

Who is managing who? Remember, a manager is an employee too – we are all part of a team. These behaviours are not restricted to entry-level employees only!

A recent Forbes article highlights ways to manage these situations through your own awareness and development. I learned how to “control the controllable” and not get side-tracked by other people’s agendas that could have thrown my career off-course. Instead, I disciplined myself to invest in my own development and associated myself with people that I could trust and build momentum around. You must have wide-angle vision in today’s new workplace to avoid the traps that may hinder your path towards career success…you may not be able to always avoid them, but you can always learn to navigate through them along your journey.(2)

I am certain that most of you reading this can associate with and have observed people behaving in these ways. Understanding why people are making these choices can help you to know how to manage through the challenge. Some of the behaviours and related triggers in my experience are:

  1. Fear: the fear of the unknown; risk of losing a job; risk of not being given a pay-rise or bonus; pride and many similar triggers for fear drive the behaviours of us all, not just your team members. Taking the time to understand what people are feeling and why offers the opportunity to reduce or allay their fears. It might seem a simple approach and even obvious, yet what we know is not always what we do!
  2. Resistance to change: managing the beliefs and reasons why change remains predominantly a negative aspect of business is a core leadership task. Apart form the strong link to point 4 below (clarity and context), it is also often about finding a trigger for individuals and teams that helps them to see the reasons why the change is of benefit.
  3. Just plain nasty: although it is rare, some people are quite simply not wired correctly and inherently create and look for trouble. Sometimes this is sociopathic behaviour and no matter what you do, little will change. Don’t allow yourself to overstate how common this type of person and behaviour is, however, as it can be one way that people let themselves off the hook by attributing their own flaws or blaming others for their own failures.
  4. Lack of clarity and context: providing background information and helping your team members understand how what they do contributes to something bigger really does matter.
  5. Mental health issues: genuine issues can exist that require external counselling and support. As a leader your role is to understand people and recommend assistance elsewhere if it is required. Having a good Employee Assistance Program is a great benefit and has helped many people.
  6. Earn the right: in all relationships, both in and out of work, the effort and desire must exist to truly get to know people. Along with trust, empathy and other attributes detailed in this blog and my other writing, you must ‘earn the right’ to have whatever conversation is required. This cannot be achieved by meeting with someone once every 3 months, for example!

The responsibility to own development sits with each of us individually. Hopefully you work for a leader and organisation who genuinely supports your development goals and sees the obvious benefits of investing in you and how that assists everyone involved. If not, this should not stop you from taking your own steps towards developing yourself, both personally and professionally.

Looking at this another way, if you don’t take the initiative to develop yourself, who do you expect will?

Let me know your thoughts.

 

References:

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive-aggressive_behavior

(2) http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2013/10/21/5-fears-employees-have-about-their-careers/#58e8d4e6ac96