Jonena Relth, President and Leadership Evangelist, TBD Consulting
Isn't it interesting that so many people back away from giving or receiving feedback - or that they are afraid of making decisions without their boss okaying every detail? These employees are afraid to say or do the wrong thing in fear that it can be "held" against them in the future. I prescribe to the Transparent Leadership model which teaches that avoiding or fearing making decisions is total nonsense. Of course, this only works when no retaliation of any sort is tolerated from anyone in the organization. We all make good, not so good, and yes, bad decisions. How we own up to and correct our mistakes is how we grow as a valuable part of any organization.
Years back, I was training a class on empowerment to a group of police officers. Throughout the first day, they all nodded their heads in agreement and seemed to be embracing the theory and skills I was teaching; but after class, one of the gentlemen came up to me and asked if he could speak with me privately. Of course I agreed, secretly hoping that I hadn't done anything to upset him. He looked at me for a long time before speaking and then blurted out:
"Jonena, what we're learning here is good stuff, but don't expect ANY of us to practice empowerment when we get back to the station! You're a smart lady and all, but the last time one of us took a chance and acted on our own without our sergeant's permission, we all got the shaft! So, unless you can get our sergeant into your class and he signs off and agrees to allow empowerment without penalties, we're just here for a nice couple of days off work."
It's not too often that I'm speechless, but I must admit having to take a couple of extra breaths before I could respond. The first thought that came to my mind was, "Why would they be sent to training that they would not be able to apply the skills learned there?" After I caught my composure, we talked about the incidents the officer was referring to.
The end result didn't match their sergeant's expectations EXACTLY, so he totally negated the fact that his subordinates had acted in good faith with the information they had at the time. They used their best judgment at the time and tried their best to solve a sticky domestic assault issue. These men and women could have done just about anything, and the "scathing" feedback would have been the same from their "micromanaging boss." The decision wasn't left for him to make, so he would not be pleased with the results. This leader was simply one of those types of people who think that unless it's their decision, it can't be good enough.
Here's the Good News:
Honestly,the end of this story ended better than I expected. The next day, I took a chance and called the "offending" sergeant to invite him to attend the next class. The stars must have aligned that next session, because he even opened up, participated in class and made a concerted effort to change the way he treated his officers. He became what I'd call a "recovering micromanager." When under pressure, he still had the propensity to spout out what he wanted without hearing the whole story or hearing what his officers thought they should do to solve an issue, but I heard later that "life" under his leadership became much better. His officers were much happier reporting to work each day. Being allowed to think, analyze situations and make decisions, they excelled at their
jobs and were promoted. Of course they probably make mistakes along the way, but in the end, they learned empowering leadership skills that helped the whole department work more smoothly.
Something tells me that the sergeant must have enjoyed his job more, too. It's a lot nicer working with people that respect and want to follow you. That's what leadership is all about, isn't it?
"We ain't really leadin' if nobody is followin'"