Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Protecting Your People

In the standard workplace, one of the basic responsibilities of leaders is to put themselves between their followers and upper managers who are abusive or unreasonable.

This can be a challenge since the upper managers who are most likely to cause problems are also the least likely to be responsive to common courtesy and common sense. The unpleasant nature of those characters, however, does not reduce - indeed it increases - the leader's obligation to shield followers.

Some strategies to consider are:

Increase the information flow. If the interrupter is a micromanager, the disruption may come from a desire for information and an assurance that things are getting done. A short status report in the morning and late afternoon may placate those concerns and reduce the tendency to interfere.

Have a direct talk. Tell the upper manager that you want him or her to deal with you directly if a matter or person needs to be corrected. If you are going to be out of the office for several days, designate your temporary replacement as the contact point. Stress the importance that you place on your being the person to correct matters and how going around you reduces your authority.

Distinguish between the event and the reaction. Train your employees in how to deal with difficult people, be they customers or upper management. Note that while they may not be able to control the event (the unpleasant behavior), they can control their reaction so their behavior is always thoroughly professional.

Post and advertise your values. Make "Respect" one of the key values. Let upper management know that you are stressing that with your employees and that it will help if the upper managers exemplify that value.

Will these approaches be fool/jerk-proof? No way. But they can mitigate the effect of unpleasant people while showing your associates that you are not indifferent to their treatment. If the behavior goes above garden variety obnoxiousness, you should seek redress further up the chain of command. There may be a risk in doing so, but that's why you're a leader.
Leaders take risks to protect their people.

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