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Man (or Woman) Up! Curing the Epidemic of Weak Leadership

This morning I was attending the Young Women Executives Forum at the Tower Club, and today’s topic was Conflict Management. This is a topic that I hit with my coaching clients 100% of the time.

We all have a default mode for dealing with conflict. Some people use the “my way or the highway” approach. Others are passive-aggressive. Others stuff their point of view down like a philly cheesesteak, and what comes back up when they get a overstuffed ain’t pretty.

It called to mind something that happened in my career several years ago. I was at a management retreat in a breakout session. We were providing input to HR about what we wanted to see updated in the performance management policy. The reason for the discussion stemmed from a very acrimonious forced ranking process the year before. At the end of the day, managers were furious with each other, the employees were furious at management, and no one, including H,R had the energy for a repeat.

So, I’d been in the job about 2 months, and my intention was to sit back and listen. Now, for the record, my default conflict tools are Accommodating and Avoiding (believe it or not, my way or the highway is not my default). However, step on my values and I squeal.

Iago, a mid-level executive, believed that the issue wasn’t the process, it was being so transparent about it. The gist was that we shouldn’t tell our staff about what constitutes good performance or the process around how we determine a performance rating, so then we wouldn’t be on the firing line when exceptional employees didn’t get the rating and raise they expected.

As you might guess, I am wholeheartedly opposed to lying to people about that which directly affects them. I am also opposed to sham processes. Frankly, this wasn’t performance management, it was salary management, and why bother pretending otherwise.

My real issue is something larger. As I was voicing my outrage, I realized that save the HR generalist, the rest of the room agreed that lying to avoid having the difficult conversation was perfectly fine with them. That’s a whole company full of weak leaders.

This is not a good leadership practice. It destroys trust. It reduces engagement. It increases employees dissatisfaction, and then people spend their energies in angst, worry, anger, gossip, and perhaps anti-social behavior instead of working together to produce a result. It’s bad for business and at some point, job karma says it will be bad for your career. It’s weak, and it’s beneath you.

If you find yourself tempted to lie instead of having that conversation, it’s time to woman (or man) up and be a leader that people want to follow.

If you don’t have the skills and/or the emotional fortitude to have difficult conversations in an empathetic, meaningful way, it’s your responsibility as a leader to close that gap. Mentors, leaders you admire, and coaches can help you with this.

We can’t create inspired workplaces by avoiding responsibility and lying. We do it by becoming great leaders and inspiring our tribe to be better.

Be Your Best You Today,
Carolann Jacobs

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