Saturday, September 16th, 2017
A TABOO THAT HAS TO GO
Your direct reports are just as human as you are and carry almost as much power. Their impact is big on the organization and on you. Your team is where you go for support, for a safe place to blow off steam and for, what you hope, is loyalty. The symbiotic dynamic of the relationship can make it hard for you to get an accurate view of the impact of your direct reports on others and on the company. In fact it is a taboo. Some sort of honor is betrayed. You can’t afford that kind of honor. You can afford decency and openness about the fact that you have the duty to know the impact of the individuals on your team on others and the company.
I have seen much damage done because the top person (CEO especially) doesn’t accurately see her team members. It is awkward to talk behind the backs of your direct reports to see how they are doing. So what? You role is an awkward role that takes constant recalibration. You need to be close enough to inspire and be real and yet distant enough to be ready to judge and assess your team with a very critical eye. They need to trust you and yet you must test that trust by double checking your own perceptions of their performance. As I write this, I have many examples of CEO failure to do this running through my head and the dominoe effect that occurred as their lack of knowing tumbled orderly succession and interrupted strategic momentum and direction.
I come down on the side of telling your team that they are so important that you will be very alert to their impact on people and work, that it is your job to poke about informally and formally about their performance. AND that you will tell them anything of substance, positive or negative, that comes up and you will discuss it together.
Ask direct questions of the people who report to your direct reports. Tell them your direct reports expect you to do this. You can do it on a informal walk-through with a light touch. You can ask for a lunch date in your office. This will kick up the taboo of one for all, all for one, so be reassuring that your direct reports expect this kind of conversation. It does take finesse. I emphasize the need in this article based on the ramifications I have seen when this does not happen–especially with global distance at play.
Sit with your team’s team at business gatherings. Use every lunchtime for a one on one conversation. Normalize this behavior. Become skilled at listening to what isn’t said. Emphasize that you do this for the leadership development of your team. Avoid gossip or siding with anyone. Test any suspicion you might have in order to disprove it or correct the situation. If you honor sharing any substantial information with your direct report, the trust between you will grow.
You have to know the reality of the impact of your team OR you will lose the trust of the organization. People will wonder if you have a true picture of what goes on. If you can show that you do then, trust level for you will go up. If not, people will think that you are either foolish or determinedly blind.
The trust that you need to have is with the organization as a whole, that you perceive accurately and act accordingly. No trust should be blind. Not you for your team or they for you. Trust is built and maintained day by day within an open system, where information is shared not hidden, not denied and therefore there is solid ground to stand on and act from.
I often write to top leaders in general. This time I am focusing on you, the CEO. You must know the impact of your direct reports with some detail and grit. You betray the trust of your company if you don’t and the result of staying dumb has long term impact on the success of your organization.