These early newsletters were long, turgid and quite frankly, boring. It took me years to realize that with newsletters, like with art, less is indeed more. Over the years, I’ve cut down the length as well as frequency of my missives thanks to the feedback of my readers. I now am committed to publishing 6 per year, one every other month.
With this special edition, I am breaking my own rules and issuing this extra copy because I have news that I want to share with you right now. I have been asked to write a weekly column in the American City Business Journals. The column is entitled Ask Alice and is a question and answer format designed to share my advice on real life leadership dilemmas and challenges. I am very excited about broadening my readership to a national audience and hope that you will read my column now and again and let me know what you think.
Below are some sample advice columns from both my website and some from the Business Journal. These will give you a flavor of the leadership challenges that I am addressing.
CAN YOU HELP ME WITH THIS?
By Dr. Alice Waagen
Q. I just found out that I’ve been promoted to manage my team. My whole career, I’ve suffered by being micromanaged by high control, demanding bosses. How can I avoid micromanaging my new staff?
Alice Says: In the last three decades that I’ve been in the workforce — as an employee, manager, and now a business owner who coaches managers — I’ve seen a lot of managers in action. Sometimes their style is to be a micromanaging maniac. Other times, they are the invisible manager who dumps assignments then walks away.
The truth is that we all have different work styles and needs. If you feel weekly updates are essential, one of your employees will feel like they are being micromanaged, another employee will feel weekly updates as not enough contact and feel abandoned.
Good managers build relationship with their staff over time. That said, here are the critical 3 things to do to get the relationship off on the right foot and avoid negative name-calling:
- Communicate Your Brains Out. In most cases where there is conflict, the boss never had an open discussion about what they expect from their employees, or how they prefer to manage. As a result, staff members have to guess what is expected of them. If they guess wrong (clairvoyance is often not listed in a job description) they tend to get corrected at every step and feel “micromanaged.” You must openly discuss your need to be informed and your expectations on results. You need to encourage your staff to honestly share their comfort level with management interaction, and be open to negotiating a middle ground.
- Make Sure that They Step Up to the Bar. Your staff needs to take responsibility for their end of the bargain. If they are feeling micromanaged, they need to say, “What can I do to let you know I can run with this? How can I make your job easier by doing my job better, faster, and more efficiently?” By actively working to build a relationship based on trust, you and your employees need to match your words with action. So if they promise to deliver something by a certain date, make sure that they do. If you promise to be hands-off, then do so.
- Agree on How to Disagree. While you are new and the relationships are fresh, meet with your staff and share with them how you will be communicating corrective feedback: face-to-face, timely, and clearly. You will not stockpile up feedback then let loose, you will not be vague and let them figure it out for themselves (or hear it back channel.) Commit to and model how you will (and how you want them) to share the good as well and the bad.
Do these actions and you won’t be called a micromanager. You may be called a good boss instead.
Q. I am a senior executive in a financial services firm. I am facing a real ethical and emotional dilemma. One of my staff is experiencing some severe personal and health problems. In the past 6 months, she has used up all her leave and is now asking to have an altered work schedule to accommodate doctors’ appointments and court dates. My compassionate nature wants to give her all the time she needs. But her financial situation means she can’t reduce her work hours. She wants to reduce her hours and somehow make them up at a later date. How much compassion can I extend here?
Alice Says: You are unfortunately struggling in what I see as the difficult balance between being compassionate and being a good steward of corporate resources. Your compassionate side rightly wants to help this person in need yet your role as an organizational executive requires you to be a good steward of the resources entrusted to you by the company. Lean too far to the compassionate side and you will be paying a person for a full day’s work and only getting half in return. This is bad for business and looks poorly on your leadership abilities. Lean too far to the stewardship responsibility and you look heartless and uncaring.
I wish I had a concrete, black and white answer to give you that would tell how much compassion is enough. Unfortunately, this is a judgment call you will need to make not only looking at the individual situation but also on the impact of her absences on the team. When the negative effects of being compassionate outweigh the good will, you will need to firmly tell her that the needs and the requirements of the position need to be addressed.
Here is how I would do it. Pull the job description and performance plan for the position (hopefully these are up to date and accurate.) Describe the time and attendance required to perform adequately in the job. If the job requirements don’t support an altered work schedule and variable attendance, state clearly what you need from her from this point forward. The ball is now in her court. She needs to deliver the job as described or seek another position that is more flexible and adjustable.
By using the job requirements as the basis for your decision, you will hopefully be keeping the conversation on a neutral, professional level and not get pulled into an emotional plane. Give her a day or two to come back to you with her decision on whether she can commit to the job as it is defined or whether she will seek another employment alternative. Remember – this is not your decision to make. It is her job to determine how to handle her job and life commitments.