This spring, I was talking with a member of an organization who was lamenting about her boss. It started when I innocently asked her how she liked working at her company.
Her response went something like this: "It's painful. The company does some good things. Our benefits are generous, we have a good vision of the future and our executive team has strong business savvy. Unfortunately, I can't get past the fact that my immediate supervisor is a micromanager. In my opinion, he spends a lot of time checking up on me, which takes time away from my production. I always have my work done but he's relentless. ..."
She continued on this train for several more minutes. There was more than frustration in her voice. It sounded like sadness. Her face grew weary as she talked. My own positive energy began to drain away. I asked a few questions and offered a few suggestions. I haven't seen her since, so I'm not sure if anything I offered helped, but here was my response.
Leadership is a tough gig. Leaders sometimes struggle with when to do what. Making a judgment in the moment can be a tough call, because most aren't easy or black and white. All the books, seminars and articles in the world don't and can't cover how to handle every situation with every member of the team.
Some leaders have such a heavy sense of ownership that delegating is a challenge. They feel the need to constantly check in to make sure the work is being completed as they said and when they said it would. That's not an excuse; it's just an explanation.
Many team members also share that heavy sense of ownership and can't understand why their manager must follow up after they've committed to deliverables and a deadline. It becomes a matter of trust. "I gave you my word," thinks the employee, "that's all you should need, especially if my body of work confirms that I hit all of the targets."
Most employees prefer to be led rather than to be managed. Managing invokes images of an administrator who looks over your shoulder. It's a mindset that tends to "send a message" of not believing in the value and talent of people. When a problem occurs, it puts the manager and employee on opposite sides defending their positions with the better debater or the one with the most power winning.
Temporarily winning, that is. The aftereffect of this approach, especially if it is continued for any period of time, is demoralizing and ineffective.
For most organizations, the enemy of success resides within their own hallways. Damaged relationships, especially between manager and team member, cause productivity to suffer. Overmanaging situations wastes time and steals self-confidence.
Clearly it's better if your boss spends the vast majority of his time leading you. Leading should conjure up a portrait of collaboration, compassion and inspiration. It sets the climate for great performance as leader and follower work shoulder to shoulder for a common purpose. Trust is high as the leader respects the value and talent of each team member.
So I said to her, "It seems like you are being managed more than led. Let me offer this solution. Try to model those leadership behaviors for your boss."
Based on her countenance, it was obvious that she was skeptical, but I forged on. Is there a reason you can't be the one in the partnership who inspires, collaborates and offers compassion? It might not be your job to lead your boss, but why not give it a spin? You earn your salary to perform. If you reframe your view of your job that way, perhaps it will create a refreshing change in your relationship and the way your boss handles himself when working with you.
I proposed one final thought: Model the change you want from others.
Joe Bertotto is the chief culture officer at HydroWorx International in Middletown. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.