I was conducting a workshop last month and was trying to make the point that managers lose credibility if they hesitate to give negative feedback.
I told the group to imagine I was the leader of a team that included all of them. I walked up to a guy named Bob and said, “Okay, Bob’s performance has been sub-par. I know, and you know, that Bob is hurting the progress of the team. But for some reason I’m practicing avoidance. I’m not confronting Bob. What do you, the other members of this team, think of me as a leader?”
There was silence for a moment. Then a woman – she was a CFO – mumbled under her breath in a voice dripping with contempt, “Loser.”
When I did the same workshop a day later, a guy said without hesitation, “Wimp.”
A lot of managers underestimate the expectations of their followers. They think, “The people on my team aren’t leaders themselves. They don’t know the pressures and complexities of a leadership role. They won’t pick up on the small mistakes I make.”
Don’t believe it for a second. If you pay $200 for a Broadway musical you want the performers to be flawless, even if you couldn’t sing or dance to save your life. If you’re a manager, the people on your team expect you to be totally committed to your leadership role and to do what it takes to lead effectively. They know instantly when you’re not, and they’re merciless.
In the workshop example I gave above, the “L” word and the “W” word were the participants’ way of saying to the manager, “You let us down.”
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