I was working today with a woman newly named to a senior-level position. She asked me if I had any tips for her. I said sure. Here are seven things I wish I had known when I was put in a senior management role:
Here’s the specific coaching I gave her on each of these:
Assume I’m your boss and you work for me. If I skip over you and give direction to one of your subordinates, that’s skip management. Or, one of your subordinates can skip you and come directly to me with a suggestion (which I can then encourage). Both types of skip management are bad. They undermine your authority and embarrass you. When it does occur, I should circle back to apologize to you, and then ask you to engage the appropriate levels. The only exception is when an established policy or procedure clearly permits the skip management to occur.
Managers should provide copious amounts of appreciative feedback through direct 1:1 expressions of thanks and appreciation. It forms the foundation of trust upon which you can then have successful constructive performance discussions.
Constructive feedback needs to be timely and direct. Make it a coaching conversation, not a threatening one. Say you want the recipient to be successful. State what happened and why it didn’t work. Be clear about the mistake or the problem. Is it behavioral? Is it about work performance? Ask the person how they might have handled it better. If they’re at a loss, provide them specific feedback on how to handle it next time. Tell them that you want to see a change and are happy to help however you can. Then ask: How can I help you avoid this mistake in the future?
This should be #1, except that it’s so obvious. You need to display integrity in all your actions and maintain a clear professional line. Don’t harass people. Be fair and even-handed. Don’t form close personal friendships with people who report to you. Don’t play favorites. Don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t fire someone because of your close personal ties.
There are key steps in the process: Explain clearly why the status quo isn’t acceptable and back it up with facts; communicate a vision; keep championing the change; use key influencers to reinforce the change; engage everyone affected in the process of figuring out how to change; provide enough resources to facilitate collective thinking and communication; maintain focus over time; and use an action plan to coordinate activities and maintain accountability.
Whenever possible, use consultative decisions, not consensus. Consensus slows things down incredibly – and it forces people to agree with each other and suppress their real opinions. A consultative decision means you’re going to consult with people, but that you or someone will ultimately make the decision. Encourage a diversity of perspectives. Tell people you want to know what they think. Don’t engage in “faux” consensus i.e. don’t make a consultative decision sound like consensus (“I want us all to agree.”) By the way, you should know there are only five types of decisions. The important ones are consultative, consensus, and delegated decisions. (The other two are autocratic – reserved only for simple, trivial decisions – and democratic – reserved for voting).
Only by delegating are you providing people opportunities to grow and learn. Understand the three levels of delegation: A, B and C. An “A” level delegation means I’m delegating to you the responsibility to develop a recommendation or proposal for how to move forward, but I reserve the right to make the final call. A “B” level delegation includes everything in “A” plus I’m delegating you the authority to make the call. However, I expect to be updated regularly and, if circumstances changes, I may change the level of delegation. A “C” level delegation is everything in “B” plus I don’t need to be kept in the loop. It’s routine and I fully trust that you can handle it.
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