I just completed a workshop for a class of middle managers who were committed (I thought) to becoming leaders in their organization. The focus was on motivation.
We talked about the factors that typically motivate employees like making their work meaningful, helping them understand the big picture, and having consistent work policies that energize people.
Then a couple of these managers began harping about their bosses and how they won’t let the managers experiment with flex-time and work-from-home policies for their specific units.
I asked if they’d ever discussed these policies with their bosses and proposed some workable strategies to shift them a bit. Most shook their heads no, and claimed such conversations probably wouldn’t be successful.
At that point I stopped the conversation and asked, “Do you hear yourselves? Are you telling me you’re afraid to step up and have a conversation with your boss about policies impacting productivity in your unit?”
They all sort of just looked at each other. The answer was yes, they were afraid. These managers were waiting to be told what to do!
“ ‘Leadership Fear’… is an unwillingness to raise an important issue… Such a fearful manager sees a problem and hides behind the untested assumption that the boss won’t be open to change.”
This is a classic symptom of ‘Leadership Fear.’ The first sign is an unwillingness to raise an important issue with upper management. Such a fearful manager (not a leader) sees a problem and then hides behind the untested assumption that the boss won’t be open to change.
“I just know she won’t get it or care,” said one manager.
Psychologists tell us that creating excuses to avoid leadership conversations is called the ‘Fundamental Attribution Error.’
When deciding whether to confront a potentially difficult conversation we often look for good excuses to justify avoiding it. The excuse is typically that the other person has some personal flaw that prevents him or her from understanding.
In other words, we are attributing blame to the other person and not to ourselves. That’s the Fundamental Attribution Error. We take the easy way out and fail to challenge ourselves to take on tough conversations.
Leadership always lives outside of our comfort zones. Managers are excellent an insulating themselves from challenges.
How many times have you heard a manager say things like, “That’s above my pay grade” or “Take that upstairs.” In some cases, managers feel untrained to take on difficult conversations. They feel the issues before them are outside of their technical expertise and definitely beyond their comfort zones!
The faulty part of that logic is that everything is outside of our expertise when we first start learning our jobs. Then gradually, we seek out and get some training and learn on the job.
But leadership takes training too!
For example, in having a conversation with the boss about experimenting with a work-from-home policy, it would be important to do some background research to prepare for the conversation. What do other companies do—what makes these policies successful? When you feel prepared, critical conversations are much less stressful.
The moral of the story is: Put aside the fear, take a risk, but be prepared. That’s leadership!