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Office Politics & Sibling Rivalry

Office Politics & Sibling Rivalry:  How Leaders may Inadvertently Encourage such Bad Behavior

Have you ever noticed how your staff may, at times, seem to act like children?  Bickering, sniping, and ignoring each other, all in an effort to out-do the other and demonstrate their dominance or value in the pecking order.  I have often observed this behavior and have heard countless managers complain about the same.  When this happens, our first tendency might be to blame the employee for their bad behavior.  However, if we were to pause for a moment and consider the dynamics, we would probably find that we are more to blame then they.

“No way” you say!  Take a moment and think it through with me.  What type of culture have you established in your organization?  Everyone knows, and is duty bound to accept, that you are the boss!  But do you reinforce this by always having the best idea, the most thoughtful insights, and the right and timely innovative solutions?  I am reminded of a recent consulting assignment where the CEO would readily boasted of his empowering and collaborative style.  However, when he sat at the conference table, he would inevitably hijack every meeting he attended, regardless of whom he might have put on point to head the effort.

Staff reported that they understood the dynamics – it was his vision or no vision at all!  As a result, whether the CEO was present or not, everyone would defer decisions to his ultimate judgment.  When they were in his presence, they would fiercely compete with each other and work hard to distinguish themselves, trying to anticipate his lead and prove they shared the same ground.

I contend that our employees are our most valued assets.  They want to make a contribution beyond mirroring our every thought and whim.  They want to feel needed, included, and useful, maybe get a little praise, and, at times, even a share of the limelight.  Over the years, I have found that there is usually more than one good way to do just about everything.  If we never allow our staff to spread their wings, I would venture to say, our organizations will never progress farther than we can literally push them.  Successful managers will work to develop a workforce that perpetuates the genius of its leaders.  And, the only way we can nurture and encourage this type of norm is to strategically stand down and wisely use our position to empower greatness in others.

My parting point and encouragement, is for you to have belief in people, guide them in a manner consistent with your belief in them, and they will live up to your expectations.  Ultimately, you will lead your staff to “responsible and mature adulthood” if you treat them like an equal.

John T. Butler, President & CEO

Responsibility Without Authority

Middle Managers: Responsibility Without Commensurate Authority

I was recently contacted by an organization with a need for my services.  The manager with whom I met was able to give me the details of what they sought.  However, when I submitted a proposal, she had to check with her up-line for approval.  The process of initiating this contract was slowed down immensely by the lack of authority vested in the initiating manager.

Sadly, this is not an isolated instance.  I also worked with an organization that recently launched a new business strategy designed to empower middle managers with decision-making authority.  The CEO boasted that this would allow his staff to use their judgment and thus free him up to do more important things. However, in my interactions with them, I found this to be an often expressed new direction that was rarely actualized.

Beyond adding to low morale, the above scenarios are sure-fire ways to slow down any progress your organization may be making.  In addition, those who are in the top positions are now backlogged with decisions that should really be made at the level they began.  Closely holding decision authority may feed some leaders’ need to be continually affirmed as the ultimate authority, however, it takes time away from other critical business requirements that are best lead by executive leaders.

An organization with a lot of red tape is certain to miss opportunity, and could possibly be rendered extinct if it is not careful.  If your managers are not allowed to take responsibility for their decisions, they well may leave you, become passive-aggressive, undermine that which they do not have control over, or give up and stop trying.  Want to kill a leader’s ability to lead?  It can easily be accomplished by withholding making-decisions authority.

For those of you on the short end of this stick, it may feel like a vicious cycle, but you can gain back your authority.  It must be handled with a bit of tact so that upper management feels comfortable with the transition of authority.  When your Up-line gives you the next task for which he would likely want to retain the final say-so, try the following approach:  “I know that you have a lot on your plate, and clear ideas about what you want from this contract.  I would like to have your delegated authority to assess this opportunity and make a decision based on the criteria we have discussed?”  This approach requires that you ask enough questions to know exactly what matters in your up-line’s opinion, and that you communicate well and reconcile your prospective if it differs. Both you and your up-line may find this exchange the most beneficial exercise you could ever experience.

John T. Butler, President @ CEO