By: Raleigh Mayer
“I was wrong.”
“I need your help.”
How often do you hear (or say) those words at work?
As a manager, you are expected to have full command of technical abilities, operational expertise and strategic goal-setting. But are you equally skilled at and invested in, connecting with, motivating and appreciating your reports?
Your team is directly affected by you — how motivated, fulfilled and functional they are and whether or not they like you (yes, likability is a leadership quality and a major aspect of persuasion and influence).
When your emerging executives (because that is how junior reports think of themselves and how you should think of them) dislike, distrust or basically don’t respect you, all leadership is lost. And when trust and respect are absent, disdain and dissatisfaction set in, and you may not hear about it until you are told by top management or human resources, which are the people employees go to when they don’t feel they can bring their unhappiness to you.
As you might imagine, that scenario is painful, public, career-threatening and more and more common as newer professionals become more assertive and outspoken with their ambitions and expectations.
New professionals have their own criteria for success and satisfaction in the workplace and while some of those expectations may seem excessive or presumptuous (thus earning millennials the “entitlement” label), those desires and preferences actually provide management with a leadership opportunity. Interestingly, these assumptions/preferences are not necessarily new: Younger employees have always tended to be ambitious, smart and eager for opportunity, authority and promotion. However, much of that career hunger, when it went unsatisfied, was accepted. Junior professionals swallowed their impatience and tolerated the wait for longer-term gratification because that is how previous generations were raised: to obey the rules of the game.
But the difference that affects the workplace now is that most newer hires were raised differently, with more consumer goods, entertainment and information platforms and, yes, praise available to them. No wonder they expect swift reward!
For instance, consider these typical psychological requirements particular to the recently arrived talent pool:
• Needing to know not just what to do and how, but why
• Wanting to make a contribution and participate in choosing solutions
• Desiring frequent, honest and supportive feedback
So what does it take to crisis-proof a manager? How can you effectively supervise and develop — or guide a newly promoted manager to effectively supervise and develop — employees who are are anxious to do well for themselves and the organization, but may be unused to or disinclined to simply follow direction and execute tasks?
Usually, it’s by a shift from hierarchical, authoritarian style of direction to a more collaborative, partnered approach. Collaborative leadership not only serves to better engage individual team members but also demonstrates to the entire group respect and recognition of different viewpoints and solutions. Employees who feel that they are listened to, taken seriously and valued for their knowledge will feel safer, more comfortable and more confident in bringing questions, concerns and even criticism to their own supervisor rather than a third party. And that type of open, honest and direct communication is the key to crisis-proofing the relationship.
A successful manager also recognizes that when giving the team assignments, he or she should always provide a rationale and context for an assignment, both to make the work more meaningful and to open the door to additional input. Because “even the smartest person in the room doesn’t always have the best ideas,” according to Amy C. Edmondson, author of Teaming.
Leaders should also invite, encourage and welcome the presentation of all ideas, recommendations and criticisms and give due consideration — and when merited, approval — to those proposals.
And, to borrow from the academic environment, which many of these young adults have just left, remember that comments from a professor are often just as (if not more) appreciated than the grade itself. Students (and employees) want to know what they’ve done well, where they haven’t succeeded and how to do better.
Finally, keep in mind that all interaction and communication is personal: You, not just your role or function, are being judged every day, and those judgments matter.
Retention, performance and, just as importantly, morale, depend on the tone you set.
The antidote to crisis management is relationship management. A leader who understands, anticipates and responds to their team’s ambitions and appetites for opportunity may also be contacted by human resources to share their method for success.
Known as the “Gravitas Guru”, Mayer is currently a senior fellow at the Logos Institute for Crisis Management and executive leadership, a leadership lecturer at New York University and Barnard College, and on the leadership council of the Financial Women’s Association.