Commander Vs Coach
What you do sets the tone for the team
We have all seen it before: you are scrambling to finish your work that is already past the deadline; because you rushed the job, when you go to submit your work you find that your boss is unhappy with the work you turned in and starts to get angry. Embarrassingly, in my early youth I have found myself in this position a few times, nobody’s perfect after all. Inversely as the CEO, to this day I find myself presented with the same set of circumstances; the only difference? I am on the receiving end.
When this situation arises, I can firmly say from my experience of past bosses in the business world that there are 3 different reactions that can take place:
1. Erupt in fury and rage, or show your displeasure. Scream and scoff at the person that submitted the work and realize that you must take an active role, after all ‘If you want something done, do it yourself”
2. Erupt in fury and rage, or somehow show your displeasure, however make the person do it again and resubmit their work.
3. Show patience for their ineptitude and lead them in the right direction. Tell them what you had in mind and coach them to not make the same mistakes again.
The obvious question to ask yourself is ‘What reaction would be the best reaction?’ however, this is a superficial question that yields a superficial answer and that won’t really get you anywhere. As a leader I have a responsibility to my team and to the group as a whole. Keeping this in mind, I realize that my reaction to this scenario is actually asking two further more visceral questions ‘What caused this “unacceptable” outcome to happen?’ and ‘What can I do to make this better in the future?’
My reaction in that moment will decide if I choose to invoke an atmosphere of acceptance and growth or if I decide to invoke an atmosphere of fear and anger.
If I were to go down the route of reaction 1, I would accomplish three things (1) make myself feel good by taking out my anger on the incompetence of my team and
(2) cause my team to fear me and
(3) make it clear to them that if they mess up it’s fine because I will do the work for them. (But, do I have the time?)
Reaction 2 is slightly better. I embarrass my team, however, I make them accountable for their mistakes and make them do it again. They understand that this behavior is not acceptable and isn’t tolerated. A bit of ‘tough love’.
Reaction 3 seems perfect. It almost is, for my leadership style however, it is a bit too passive and from my experience it won’t lead to the most optimal result.
Ideally, I would like for my team to take accountability for their mistakes and be trained in the right fashion to do the work again.
In truth after trying all three approaches multiple times over the last decade I can state that the best way to approach this problem is bringing in the right combination of reactions 2 and 3. The reasoning behind this is simple.
I use direct words that instigate action, execution, and improvement, trying to stay away from words that cultivate anger, fear, and strife. In addition to this I sit down and take the time to show them what I expect of them and how to achieve this.
As I previously mentioned I am a busy guy and I imagine you are too. Naturally, this can take up quite a bit of our limited time, so why do it? Why go through the troublesome process of explaining something again when you could have done it yourself in that same time?
1. The person will be grateful I have invested time in developing a skill of theirs. — Oddly enough, I have observed that when you are among the top of the chain of command your team will value the time you take to individually cater to their mistakes.
2. Maybe more selfishly, in the long run I can rely on the person more and more. If we apply the law of compound interest, we realize that our principal grows at an exponential rate over longer periods of time. The same applies to work. If I spend time making sure that my team understands what is expected of them and they understand how to achieve that, over time this will acclimate them to the quality of work that I accept and the style of output I like. Additionally, this provides them with greater satisfaction at work (which is another topic entirely).
The idea from all of this is to find a perfect balance between reaction 2 and 3. This ratio can only be found through empirical data collection; I have found my personal ratio to stand at around 30% reaction 2 and 70% reaction 3.
After we determine the ideal reactions, the answers to the questions ‘What caused this to happen?’ and ‘What can I do to mitigate this in the future?’ become easier to attain. By treating your team with respect, ultimately it makes your communication more frictionless. The next opportunity you get you can simply ask them what their circumstances were which led to the overdue and poor work; from that answer you can determine what changes you need to make or advise them on what changes they need to make in order to appease your expectations.
The role of a leader was never meant to be easy! We may not always be aware but our daily reactions set the precedent for what is acceptable in the workplace. It sets the tone for how we treat people in the workplace and how people treat each other, and ultimately the feedback culture of a team. People work optimally when they are comfortable, are not pressured to preform perfectly, and are supported when they make mistakes. It is our responsibility to make sure that this becomes a reality.
A great workplace is one that picks you up when you fall and pushes you forward to get better and better.