Solution Saturday: Liked But Ignored

Dear Dan,

I’ve been working with a leader, who in many regards is exceptional, but she is really struggling with getting the managers who report to her to do what she asks them. They will say yes when she asks them to do something, and then not meet deadlines and/or not do it, for example.

When she does say no to something or make an unpopular decision, they get upset and offended that it wasn’t a more ‘democratic’ or discussion filled process.

Her general approach is very democratic and trusting, which I think is a big part of the issue, but it’s also a big part of what makes her a well liked/respected leader. Any suggestions on how she can better balance the democratic leadership approach, with a more ‘I am still ultimately the leader’ approach?

Warmly,

Missed Deadlines

*Warning: This post is 966 words long.

Forgiveness means we’re moving forward with the future - not the past - in mind

Dear Missed,

If it helps, all leaders run into this challenge.

I’m responding with a democratic culture in mind. It’s surprising how leaders begin democratically, but resort to command and control when things get tough.

Overreact:

Overreact when dealing with entrenched negative patterns. Breaking negative patterns feels like going overboard. People who want things to remain the same, will tell you to chill out.

Respected AND liked:

There’s a difference between being liked and being respected. I like ice cream, but I don’t respect it. You like many people that you wouldn’t respect as leaders. Here are some ideas on meeting deadlines and gaining respect at the same time.

How democratic leaders gain respect:

You gain respect when you deal with tough issues firmly, compassionately, and collaboratively. 

#1. Apologize for falling short as a leader.

“I’ve let you down as a leader. Worse yet, I let myself down when I allow us to habitually perform below our competencies.”

Express discomfort openly. “I feel uncomfortable bringing this up. But, I owe it to you to let you know how I’ve failed our team.”

Be candid. “This issue is driving me crazy. I need your help.”

Teams respect authentic leaders who face their fears with forward-facing resolve. “I’m working to resolve this issue. I believe we can live up to our capacity. I need your help.”

#2. Explore problems collaboratively:

Passive tolerance becomes endorsement.

  1. How often are you missing deadlines? The term “you” is necessary, unless the leader persistently misses deadlines, too. In that case, use “we”.
  2. What happens when you miss deadlines? Explore this from the viewpoint of customers, colleagues, and the organization as a whole.
  3. Accept apologies, if offered. Never say, “It’s OK,” when someone apologizes. Forgiveness only applies if it wasn’t OK. Forgiveness means we’re moving forward with the future – not the past – in mind.

Weak leaders make light of serious problems.

If missing deadlines is unacceptable, make it serious. It’s healthy to feel bad about doing bad things. It’s delusional to feel good about poor performance, when you can do better.

Feeling good about yourself when you let others down is pathetic immaturity.

#3. Don’t ask “Why are we missing deadlines?” “Why” questions invite excuses. When you ask for excuses, under-performers relax.

#4. Develop strategies for meeting deadlines collaboratively.

  1. Ask forward-facing “how” or “what” questions. How might you meet your deadline next time? Look to the future, not the past.
  2. Challenge comfortable strategies that haven’t worked in the past. If you want something different, you must do something different.
  3. Send the team on a mission to solicit suggestions from others on how to meet deadlines. Make the timeline short. “Let’s meet tomorrow to see what you learned.” 

If they come back the next day without new ideas:

  1. Stop discussing new ideas for meeting deadlines.
  2. Create a list of people – outside the team – who are great at meeting deadlines.
  3. Pick up the conference line – in the current meeting – and call someone to solicit suggestions for meeting deadlines.
  4. Hang up and debrief.
  5. Have each team member identify one person they can call after your meeting to generate ideas on meeting deadlines.
  6. Schedule a follow up meeting the next day to discuss what everyone is learning.

Face negative patterns with resolve and kindness.

#5. Choose a strategy for moving forward. Once you have some ideas on how to better meet deadlines, have the team choose the top three they would like to try. Explore options. Focus on behaviors, not simply ideas. How will you know you’re making progress? 

Engage in corrective measures with optimism. You aren’t punishing anyone. It’s respectful, not hateful, to expect everyone to live up to their capacity.

#6. Follow up in the near future. In order to replace entrenched negative patterns, you must adopt new strategies and practice close oversight. If it’s a serious issue, waiting a month or a week is too long.

Declare how you’ll follow up, before you follow up.

Follow up by asking questions.

  1. How’s your deadline project going? Begin broadly, but always get specific.
  2. What have you done?
  3. What’s helping?
  4. How do you know you’re on track?
  5. What are you learning?

#7. Discuss missed deadlines publicly. Don’t plan to fail, but be prepared if it happens. Everyone should know the consequences of missing deadlines.

  1. Ask your team, “What should happen when one of us misses a deadline?” Work through all the fluff until you find actionable strategies.
  2. Stop protecting people who miss deadlines. You might try adding, “Deadline report,” to your meeting agenda. Honor met deadlines. Discuss missed deadlines, without accepting excuses.
  3. Make your approach to meeting deadlines a team activity that is mostly fun.

Respect is earned by doing tough stuff, gently, but firmly. 

Which of these ideas might work well in your organization? Which might not work well?

How might leaders deal with teams that don’t follow through or don’t meet deadlines?

*I relax my 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.

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