Don’t rationalize poor management

We all tell ourselves stories, and leaders are no exception. For example, you might tell yourself that you are viewed as a great leader by your employees, or that you are considered a superstar in your company. Sometimes stories are based on reliable feedback and sometimes they are simply a means to justify behavior.

Even good leaders can fall into the trap of doing the wrong thing, because the story they tell themselves supports their intentions.

Here are some stories that sound right, but could be very wrong:

I don’t want to delegate to my team because they are already too busy.

Perhaps this is true but more often it is an excuse for a leader who doesn’t want to give up control. This is often the lament of a leader in a technical area, who enjoys getting into the details of the work.

It can also be a trap for an overworked leader, who is booked so tightly, he or she doesn’t step back and figure out how to manage his or her time. This was the case with a client, who after a fresh perspective, realized some of his team members would love the opportunity to sit in some of the three-hour update meetings that sucked up his time, because they would get a chance to see and hear what is going on across the department. He saw the upside, “If I rotated them and asked them to take good notes and share it during our staff meetings, it would be developmental for them and save me hours each week. In fact, I haven’t been doing a very good job of passing down the information to them, and they would do a far better job. It would also give them visibility to some people they never interact with.”

This same leader began to see other opportunities, such as the high-potential employee who wants to move up into a leader role. “He would be the perfect person to take to budget meetings because he could do some of the leg work for me. He would also get some experience in some administrative tasks, which would get him ready for his next promotion.”

I have an open door policy because I want to be accessible to my team.

An open door policy can be a good thing, but it can also be a passive approach to communication that just doesn’t work. If an open door is a replacement for regular team meetings and one-on-one sessions with your direct reports, you may be kidding yourself.

Ask yourself, “Who takes advantage of the open door?” Is it the same people all the time? What about the rest of your staff? How are they getting information? Do most people bring problems? Have you been surprised with a situation that you were unaware of? Having an open door is fine for ad hoc trouble shooting but without regular, proactive communication with everyone in the room, you will always be chasing fires.

My calendar gets packed because my assistant and others put meetings on my calendar.

The tail is wagging the dog. A five-minute huddle with your assistant each Monday morning or Friday afternoon, will educate her and empower her to manage your calendar more efficiently. Once she knows the questions to ask, such as, “What is the purpose of this meeting?” and understands what you are trying to get done that week, she will be much more effective in helping you manage your time.

I take a hands-off approach with my direct reports because I want them to know I trust them.

This is fine if your direct reports are experienced, top-performing professionals. But if some of them are new, or struggling to meet expectations, you need to get up close and personal. Micromanaging has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but that is exactly what you must do when the situation warrants it.

I go directly to employees because going through their managers just takes too much time.

If you go around your managers, to their employees, it is usually for one of two reasons: you are either meddling in the weeds because you get satisfaction from doing lower level work; or, you don’t trust your managers. The effect is the same: your employees will be caught in a bind—who do I listen to? And your managers will resent your intrusion and come to the conclusion that you don’t trust them to do their jobs. Over time, your good managers will leave, and your poor managers will throw up their hands and let you do their work. Either way, you will stunt the growth of your company.

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