“So you’ve been with Starbucks how many years?” I asked Lucy, the manager of a location I frequent.
“It’s been 18 years,” she said, smiling.
“And they’ve been good to you?” I asked.
“Yes, really good. I can’t complain,” she said. “I just need a new district manager.”
“I remember you talking about him when he started, and you said things were working out pretty well. What happened?” I asked.
“Well, he’s just so focused on the operations — on us doing everything to the letter of the Starbucks law — that he doesn’t take into account the fact that dealing with customers means we have some surprises every day,” Lucy said. “For example, if we’re dealing a rush at the store or something like that and I’m late to respond to an email from him, he doesn’t like it. And he NEVER gives us any kind of positive feedback. Everything is negative, negative, negative.”
“That’s rough. He sounds like someone who’s never worked in the trenches before. Was he ever a barista?” I asked.
“That’s the crazy thing — he was. And at one point he co-managed a store with me before he became my boss,” Lucy said.
“So if he did work in the trenches, then my other guess is he’s a very new manager and he hasn’t been in a leadership role before,” I said.
“Well, he is new to this level of management,” Lucy said.
“So I think it’s a combination of him being a new leader and him leading someone — you — who he used to be peers with. He’s got things kind of upside down in terms of how to manage, and he’s very focused on making sure you know he’s the boss now and not your peer anymore. I did the same thing when I was a new manager — I was obsessed with control; with getting people to do what I said, when I said it. And if they didn’t, I took that as a direct challenge to my new-found authority. I also never gave any positive feedback because I thought that would make people work less and get lazy. I had everything backwards and it sounds like Timothy does too.”
“I think you’re right. I try to tell him my point of view but it doesn’t seem to sink in,” Lucy said.
“The best thing you can do in this situation is to accept what you’re dealing with and manage up to it. So when I was a new leader, I was obsessed with punctuality (I still am to some degree). If someone was a few minutes late to a meeting, I took it as an insult, and I got mad. What you need to do is not be late to meetings, to respond to his emails in a timely manner. Figure out the things that are important to him and — no matter how trivial you think they are — do them.”
Eventually, I told her, the situation will resolve itself. Timothy’s poor management skills will interfere with his ability to retain good people, and the store as a whole will suffer.
And so we have another crystal clear example from the real world of how folks put into leadership positions can get it all backwards. As I’ve said before, the default mode for a new leader who has had no training in that art is to usually do the opposite of what should be done. Instead of praise, they hold their tongue. Instead of holding their tongue, they spew forth venom at the first opportunity. Instead of trusting, they demand to know. Instead of letting go, they gather the reins and whip the horses.
Look at yourself. How do you manage your team? Maybe one of the simplest measuring sticks is this: after the majority of interactions with you, how does your staff feel? In Lucy’s case, after every meeting with Timothy, she feels worse than before. What about your team? Do you have the courage to find out? I have a feeling you already know the answer without commissioning a 360 review. The question is: do you care?
If you don’t care, you’re beyond hope. Remember — as a leader, your job is to empower (servant leadership). Your job is to hire great people and get obstacles out of their way so they can do the jobs you’ve defined for them. Your job is to show them where to go and help them get there.
As a CIO or some other type of healthcare IT professional, you’ve surely acquired a whole bunch of very specific knowledge, but you’re also a leader, and that requires a completely different set of knowledge. Make sure you have both in spades, and your employees will tell folks that working with you has always been good to them.