Leadership – the right woman for the job
– When listening to him I just shook my head, left the room and started looking for a new job.
We have all had managers about whom we have said similar things. But if there is one thing that has become clear to me over the years it is how difficult the role of manager is. So it can be interesting to contemplate what determines success in managerial roles.
One study reveals that 70 per cent of success is down to training, and 30 per cent is due to inherited qualities. These percentages give us hope and align with my own experience that it is possible to develop skills and provide tools that support people in performing managerial roles. I believe, however, that there are some critical situations where personal qualities are crucial, and where if things go wrong the costs to an organisation can be immense.
What is the most difficult thing you can come up against as a manager? Here’s one example that applies to a client of mine, who was a municipality administrative director. At the political level a decision had been made that required cuts to a project that many staff had poured considerable time and commitment into. My client needed to communicate this decision and was well aware that it was a crucial moment for the administration. If she could not find the right approach there was a tangible risk she would create disappointment, anger and cynicism among the staff. It would have been easy to simply communicate the decision and then resort to cliché pep phrases such as “let’s just make the most out of the situation”. Which may be true, but such a statement hardly addresses the feelings of those involved. At the same time she had to be mindful of her role as administrative director and her obligation to represent the political decision. The situation was indeed full of tension.
My message to her was that the staff must experience her empathy. But how could she demonstrate that to hundreds of people? Furthermore, the staff must also feel that she would not waver in the face of strong reactions to the decision. We worked on some tactics, and this is how it turned out.
With all the staff gathered she told them about the decision. Then she referred to six or seven employees by name. "I know the amount of commitment you John have shown and I can only imagine your disappointment. I understand what a shock this must be for you Jane after driving this project forwards for so long with tenacity and passion. Amir, you have been building up the infrastructure for several months and now your work is smashed to pieces.”
Of course she said far more to each individual, but you get the point. The top manager was standing up tall and was composed and fearless. At the same time she conveyed that she truly understood how the staff were feeling.
An interesting paradox is that the more you acknowledge the frustration and disappointment of others, the more you increase the likelihood of them being able to see the bigger picture. Which is exactly what happened in this case, not least because she also talked about the organisation's responsibility for those people that would unfortunately have to leave the organisation.
Given the above, my client could now move on to focus on the fact that the decision had been made and the necessity to act on it, as well as discussing next steps. She rounded off by saying that anyone who had questions they didn’t want to raise in public only needed to reach out to their manager or contact her personally.
How do we know our tactics worked? After the meeting she got a lot of feedback that her approach was appreciated. People said it was liberating that she addressed the ‘elephant in the room’, and they compared her approach to similar processes that had not been handled as well.
Most managers will sooner or later face the essence of this situation, and then their leadership will be put to perhaps its most difficult test. There are, of course, lessons to be learnt from how my client managed the situation. But I believe perhaps the most important lesson is that organisations need to make proper personal assessments of their managerial candidates. I like to think that any personal quality can be developed to a certain extent but the ability to stand firm yet remain empathetic in situations like this, needs to be in place from the start.
Coaching and leadership development in all its glory, but had this director lacked personal maturity and courage, no tactical talk in the world would have helped her. If she hadn’t met the moment head on the way she did, you may have heard disgruntled mumblings among the staff. Some of whom might have shaken their heads, left the room and started looking for a new job. The costs to the organisation could have been immense.
The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.