Leader Alert: Beware the Downside of Being the Big Cheese

One day you’re following direction and the next you’re giving it. Promotions to leadership positions are watershed moments.                    

If we’re not careful about how we wear our new leadership mantles, we’ll find ourselves isolated. 

The chilling effects of deference 

Employees try to figure you out as soon as you become the big cheese. 

New leaders, even when they’re colleagues we’ve known for years, are inevitably suspect. 

Most employees will likely play it safe until they understand how you will conduct yourself and deal with them in your new-found power position.    

The result is deference—submission to your requests and courteous yielding to your direction. 

Here’s how deference reveals itself: Your employees 

  • Wait for you to talk first
  • Ask, “What do you want?” questions
  • Tend to wait and see how you’re leaning before weighing in
  • Routinely check in with you before acting
  • Shut down the informal information pipeline to you
  • Are extra careful about what they say, holding back on input and feedback 

The consequences of deference may be elusive at first, but, in time, you’ll feel their sting when you realize you’re: 

  • Out of the loop with your employees because no one lets you in on the scuttlebutt
  • Unaware of the disruptions your decisions and direction have caused
  • Disconnected from the needs of your own employees
  • No longer considered a member of the team, even though you’re its leader
  • In this alone, that you’re employees have positioned you to hold the bag

Check yourself 

Deference will isolate you. That means you need to understand what you’re doing, consciously or subconsciously, to attract it. Then you need to undo it. 

Remember: You now have position power. Employees understand that you are expected by the business to act in its best interests which can, at times, be in conflict with theirs. 

Great leaders need to earn the trust and confidence of their employees through: 

  • Humility and openness
  • Consistently balanced and fair decision-making
  • Timely actions and ability to minimize obstacles
  • Respectful treatment of employees 

You can’t undo crippling deference until you understand what’s contributing to it. The major factor is fear: Your employees know that you can

  • Make or break their career progress
  • Impact their work assignments
  • Hurt them with your assessment of their performance; impact their salaries
  • Influence their stress levels, self-confidence, and self-esteem
  • Direct them to adopt work processes that are ineffective 

Smart employees are careful about how they treat their leaders because a lot is at stake. 

Break the pattern

Smart leaders recognize the signs of deference and take action. They: 

  • Ask employees for their ideas and concerns at meetings and privately, waiting for their answers, acknowledging and rewarding the value of counterpoint
  • Demonstrate trust by doing what they say they’re going to do
  • Communicate openly and regularly on all topics
  • Roll up their sleeves and engage with employees where they work, inquiring about their issues, needs, and frustrations
  • Involve employees in problem-solving by delegating responsibility and authority
  • Ask for ideas from employees before offering their own 

Slice the cheese 

Leadership is a balancing act. We need to understand that “good” power is about influence not about control or self-aggrandizement. Misuse of leadership power takes on a life of its own and deference can feed it negatively. 

Our job as leaders is to make sure that we keep everyone in the game. It’s essential to lead effectively so others want to follow, but not in silence. We need them to voicing their ideas and feedback without fear.

Every team needs a leader and every leader needs a team. When we give a little slice of influence to each player, we increase our collective chances of winning. 

Photo from The Wu’s Photo Land via Flickr

Never Underestimate the Wrath of An Employee Scorned | Position Power Revisited

They call it “position power.” It shows up in that little box on the organization chart so we know that: “This manager has decision-making authority.” This usually means he or she can hire and fire, promote or demote, grant or deny requests.  Yes, these folks have the power to make our work paradise or a living hell.

Power play v. Fair play 

A lot of good managers work hard to get it right and succeed. But there are also those managers who always need to remind us that they’re in control.

They don’t do it all the time, just when we need an approval, a decision, or some slack. They tell us they need time to consider ramifications, past practice, and justifications. They’ll let us know.

Position power is a device that clarifies who’s accountable for the budget, compliance, programs, products, and performance. As employees we get that, but what we don’t get is being treated unfairly or without respect.

Beware: Employee power

It’s naïve for managers to ignore or underestimate the power their employees have to make or break them. After all, exactly who is it that’s producing the work that managers benefit from? Their employees.

Individually and as a group, employees have the power to undercut the success of any manager. They can sow seeds of discontent and chatter about the manager’s deficiencies in ways that reverberate up the corporate ladder. They can resist change so it reflects badly on the manager’s ability to lead. And they can get even.

No employee wants to work for a “bad” boss, someone who:

  • Speaks to them rudely
  • Dismisses their ideas
  • Appraises them unfairly
  • Eliminates their job without a rationale
  • Takes credit for their work 

Although employee tolerance for a boss’s “abuse of position power” is generally long, once there is no hope for improvement, employees do what they need to do. In most cases, the manager will be none the wiser.

The realities of getting even!

1. Betty worked long hours in a flower shop, making stunning arrangements at all price points. She loved the work in spite of the cold and wet conditions better suited to flowers than people.

Because Betty was one of the best arrangers, she often conducted public seminars for the owner, as part of his marketing effort. In time the shop needed to reduce staff, so Betty was let go because of her lower seniority. She accepted that and still offered to conduct the remaining seminars. The owner blew her off.

Result: Betty’s next dozen $25 arrangements contained $50 worth of flowers. The fury of those customers when they ordered their next $25 arrangement without those extra flowers iced her scorn. 

2. Henry, a department manager, had a supervisory vacancy to fill and interviewed a number of internal candidates from the work group as well as external candidates. He selected a candidate from the outside, provided no explanation to the internal candidates about why they were not selected, and then turned the new supervisor loose with his new employees. The new supervisor knew nothing about his staff, the politics of the situation, or the hornets nest he was stepping into.

It didn’t take long for the “scorned” candidates to undercut the new supervisor, making the hiring manager look like a fool for making a bad hire. The heat became so great that the new supervisor was dismissed and one of the internal candidates hired. The manager’s reputation as a leader was called into question and the productivity of the group declined during the change over.

Take care of the hands taking care of you! 

Employees are the company. The closer they are to the work that secures the revenue, the more important and valuable they are. That means the real power is at the bottom of the organization chart, not the top!

Your business fitness is a measure of how well you attract followers and then empower them. Let’s do all we can to be powerful together!

Do you have a “get even” tale to tell? I’m all ears!

It’s Scandalous! Leaders Who Don’t Lead | Taking Issue

Why does this happen?  Career-minded people knock themselves out to achieve positions of leadership. But when they get there, they don’t lead or just get it very wrong. That’s the scandal!

We expect our leaders to lead, not just sit in their offices waiting to be addressed as Your Leadness!

Leadership isn’t a crown.  

There’s a big allure about “position power.” Why? Because it comes with more money, a better parking spot, a private office, and more employees. This makes us feel important. It’s like getting a spa treatment for our egos!

Our employees want to see how we’ll use our “power.” They’re waiting for their leaders to do things that will inspire them to dig deeper, perform better, excite creativity, protect and benefit them.

We want leaders who respect us as followers not treat us like subjects!

Leading is real work!

Leadership is the actual job! With or without a swanky title, when other people look to you for direction, then your job is to lead.

Considering all that’s been written about leadership, simply speaking, here’s what it takes to be a good leader:

Define reality for your employees—Explain the good, the bad, and the ugly about what’s impacting them from inside and outside the organization. Don’t sugar coat and don’t create panic either. Build balanced, fact-based understanding.

Remove obstacles—Listen to what employees say about impediments to their performance. Clear away that debris. Deflect outside requests that will interfere with their work, especially knee-jerk ideas from upper management that can throw things off course.

Be there—Show up. Learn your employee’s names and something about each one. Ask for their ideas. Participate periodically in group and individual dialogue.   Let them know you’re their ally, working for them!

Communicate relentlessly—Talk to employees about the challenges you’re dealing with, issues you’re trying to balance, information you’re trying to get a handle on. When employees understand how decisions evolve, they’re better able to accept changes that affect them.

Make decisions—Take a position, intervene, and resolve things expeditiously. Don’t waiver and don’t delay. Be willing to change your decision when you’re wrong. Leaders need to keep the ball rolling.

Good leaders are a gift. Bad ones are an albatross. If it were easy to be good, every leader would be.

How do you stack up?

If you want to know if you’re a good leader, look around. Are employees following you because they want to or because they’re stuck with you?

Here are a few leaders who missed the mark:

The new CEO of an intensely mission-focused, non-profit reorganized, displacing a number of employees. He took off for a global business trip one week before the affected employees were notified, making him unavailable for any questions. It was clear he didn’t intend to “be there” for his employees.

The vice president of a financially strapped, non-profit had been fully involved in decision-making with her CEO to save the agency. The VP typically hid in her office, avoiding interaction with her employees. When she had to communicate the changes, instead of owning them, she blamed the decisions solely on the CEO.  It didn’t take long for the truth to come out.

The senior leadership of a major corporation routinely promoted “favorite sons and daughters” to lofty positions. When their leadership didn’t deliver expected results, they pointed the finger at their department managers, making them scapegoats. This is all it takes to crush a band of followers!

Leadership is a moral obligation. 

If no one is following, you aren’t leading. It’s as simple as that! If you’ve never read, Leadership Is An Art by Max DePree, now’s the time. 

Taking the lead is a business fitness smart move—a public one. When you lead, everyone sees what you do and who you are. Let your legacy as a leader be an exemplary one and not scandal. Go on…make yourself proud!

What’s been the worst example of scandalous leadership that you’ve experienced? What was the outcome? Thanks for sharing, as always!