A way-too-common leadership behavior is the opposite – maintain harmony. “I don’t want to sweat the small stuff.” “I hate confrontation.” “They’ll figure it out eventually.” “Maybe a gentle all-staff email will help.”
Great leaders develop fantastic relationships and address problems as they occur.
A true story, from a tall building in downtown Des Moines:
“Jackson” worked in a pod with all female co-workers, including his manager, “Jidana”. They shared a uni-sex restroom and Jackson left the seat up – all the time – and no one said anything. “It’s not my job to tell him,” was the excuse of his co-workers. “This is totally trivial and not worth my time,” thought Jidana. Resentment toward Jackson started to build, behind his back. People treated him differently because they thought he was selfish.
Eventually, Jidana realized it was affecting the team, and scheduled a 30-minute meeting with Jackson to tell him about the hole he had dug for himself. Embarrassing for all, and it could have been solved quite early if Jidana had simply addressed the problem by saying something casual like, “Jackson- dude- put the seat down. Didn’t your mom holler that at you at some point growing up?” Smile on the face, twinkle in the eye the first time, but address the problem. It’s good leadership, and saves time later.
If you’ve been following our case study about the M Booth Corporate Team – the group that handles Small Business Saturday, you’re already familiar with VP (now SVP – she got a promotion just last month) Moon Kim and EVP Mark Schroeder. Mark is brilliant at addressing problems; back in 1989, he was one of my advisors when I ran for student body president at Wartburg College. His feedback could be brutal, but was always helpful, wise and delivered with the best of intentions.
Nearly 30 years later, Moon talks about Mark’s ability to address problems and maintain a high morale team: “The number one reason I’ve stayed at M Booth so long is because of Mark’s leadership style,” Moon starts. “I had a boss a long time ago who would say one thing behind closed doors, and other things in different settings. He did it to spare people’s feelings, but it had the opposite effect.”
Moon gives an example from a few years ago: “In the early years of SBS, I would write press releases, and Mark would call me into his office and tell me to my face what worked and what didn’t. Some leaders in PR might just take the easy way out and re-write the material and share the revision, but Mark was candid, detailed, and blunt with his critique.”
I’ve known Moon for a few years, and she’s delightful and upbeat. And, her DiSC profile is the same as mine – iD, so we prioritize enthusiasm and positivity. Because I’ve been on the receiving end of Mark’s bluntness myself, I asked how that makes her feel.
“Sometimes his candidness is a little jolting”, Moon admits, “but I know that what he says to me is always the same as what he would say behind my back. I never wonder.”
Addressing problems is important for a leader, but if that’s all they do, it can hurt relationships. Mark does more than just criticize.
“He has our backs, too. Time after time, Mark stands up for his team members. And, he really helps the thought processes,” she explains. “He uses a Socratic approach and asks ‘what is the outcome you want?’ and we work backwards from there.”
Moon says this combination of approaches has led to three things: First, she’s loyal to M Booth. “I’ve been here eight years and I love it.” Second, all that early criticism and coaching has led to a lot of freedom to do her work. “I have a lot of autonomy now,” she says. Finally, it’s led to her own leadership development. “Now, I’ve learned that I have a responsibility to my people to do the same thing: look at things carefully and address problems candidly so they know how they’re doing.”
Being mean can be easy, but so can avoiding tough talk.
Effective leaders address problems so that team members know exactly where the concerns lie.
Next week, the final post in this 18-part series: leaders offer praise.
Thanks for reading,
Addressing problems is a leadership behavior that helps drive Feedback during the Execution process of the Work of Leaders.
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This is the seventeenth post in an 18-part series. Throughout the series, I’ll be providing real-world negative examples from a variety of settings.
For positive examples, we’ll look at one specific case study: the Small Business Saturday initiative from American Express. Small Business Saturday has become part of the holiday shopping lexicon (positioned between Black Friday and Cyber Monday) and reminds us to “Shop Small” and keep our dollars local. It’s been tremendously successful and is a huge initiative, but there’s a behind-the-scenes story that lifts up best practices in leadership we can all adopt; not every leader or team member involved is a high-level executive at American Express. In fact, much of the effort was a product of the work of a specific team at M Booth, a mid-sized award winning PR firm. Follow along to learn more. To start at the first post in this series, click here.