“You can’t beat hanging out here on a beautiful day, watching your son play baseball,” I said to Anthony, a fellow second grade Summer League baseball dad.
“It’s true. I love going to the games, and I don’t mind coming to the practices either,” he said. “Though I’m lucky now if I catch the last hour of the games during the week.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I just got a new boss a few months ago and we’re still getting to know each other, so even leaving at 5:30 to get here at 7 is tough,” he said.
“Yeah – I can imagine that when you work on Wall Street leaving at 5:30 is considered leaving early,” I said.
“Absolutely. The crazy thing is I’m an early guy, so I get to the office at about 7 AM,” he said.
“And I’m guessing that your boss doesn’t come in until much later?” I asked.
“Exactly. So even though he knows I come in early, it doesn’t seem to count for anything since he’s not there,” he said.
“Yeah. There are some bosses that just expect you to match the hours they like to work. I bet there are people who’ve given all they can for the day and are just fooling around on the Internet for the last few hours so they don’t leave before 6 or 7 or whatever time the boss expects,” I said.
“Absolutely — it’s so frustrating,” he said. “And the other thing he did was, when he started here, he told our sales group that we weren’t pulling our weight and that he thought we should be doing much higher numbers. I went right back at him and told him we were all working our asses off and that if he wanted higher numbers he could get out there himself and really start helping us.”
“You said that to him?” I asked incredulously.
“I did. I got the feeling that it was alpha male versus alpha male, and that if I didn’t say anything, it was going to set the tone for our relationship,” he said.
“Wow. I’m impressed. Of course, he may hold that against you,” I offered.
“Yeah – it’s a risk I had to take,” he said.
Obviously, Anthony’s new boss is committing two cardinal errors of leadership. First off, he came in and — without talking to anyone or taking time to observe things — insulted everyone’s work ethic by telling them they were under-producing. In doing so, he created a ‘me-vs.-you’ mentality, in which he took the role of management holding the whip, and they were relegated to lowly rank of salespeople.
Whenever companies do this — whenever they place a manager over salespeople who doesn’t have to sell, who doesn’t really have skin in the game, it creates a problem. For it is very, very easy to look at any number on a spreadsheet and demand it be increased by 20 percent. It is not so easy to make the same statement if you’re the one who is personally responsible for making the increase happen.
This is a classic case of decoupling that leads to trouble. Another instance came up in a discussion I had with a friend who had just changed jobs. He was on the delivery side of a services company, and the decoupling was between sales and service. Sales, of course, needs to get the deal done, and usually gets paid for making just that part happen. But when there is decoupling, the salesperson gets to exit stage right at that point and the service person takes center stage. And this is the time when we often hear that infamous line: “The salesperson told you what? I’m sorry — there is no way we can do that.”
I know for a fact there are solid organizations out there that do not let this happen. They require the lead salespeople to remain on the job they’ve sold and be part of the delivery team. They don’t get to walk away and, as such, they don’t oversell.
As for the insecure leader who want’s everyone to match her hours, that is another waste of time and energy. As leaders, we must start off not assuming the worst of those we lead. We must assume they are going to do their best work and so treat them with respect. If someone wants to get their day started at 7 so they can leave for their son’s baseball game at 5:30, don’t make cracks about them leaving early because you roll in at 9:30 and work until 7.
We all have both obligations we must fulfill and natural rhythms we should stay attuned to. Some like to start early, some like to roll in late. In most jobs, measuring whether someone is producing is easy, so why be so concerned with how much time they are sitting in front of their computer? As those in the government are realizing when it comes to HIT policy, it’s better to focus on outcomes, not how those outcomes are achieved.
So as you lead your teams, remember to respect and trust your workers. Give them flexibility and freedom to get the job done on their terms. Don’t lead from behind, but instead, help them achieve with a “us versus the world” attitude. I can tell my friend is much less happy at work than he used to be, and his new boss is the reason why. The sad thing about it is I have a strong feeling he’s a really good employee, so the result of all this nonsense might just be someone far less competent perfectly matching the boss’s hours.