“We’ve got a little problem,” I told my manager. “I made a change in someone’s contributed article that has gotten the person being written about pretty upset. I’m going to forward you the emails. Can you take a look and we can discuss?”
The tweak I’d made was minor, but it was nonetheless a change that, “Sal” felt cast him in an unsavory light. I don’t remember the exact wording — either the original or my edit — but I can remember how it all went down.
Unfortunately, as I (in consultation with my manager) was trying to calm Sal down, he was just getting more ballistic. I kept my manager in the loop, and we discussed each reply from Sal and what my response should be. At some point, my manager, “Ed,” was being copied on the email chain.
Now, mind you, I was the one the initial correspondence was directed to. I’d been handling all the replies and I was taking care of the problem. I brought my manager into the situation because I felt it was the right thing to do, and I thought he might be able to help me navigate the waters. I repeat, I felt he would be able help me navigate the waters, not take over the helm.
But unfortunately that is just what he did.
At some point in the process, I went into his office to be told the following.
“I replied to him,” Ed said. “You’re out of it.”
“What?” I asked. “Why?”
“I’ve had enough of this and I want to get it finished,” he replied, ending our meeting.
I walked out of his office angry, hurt, embarrassed and feeling betrayed. I’d brought my leader — supposedly a mentor — into the process to help, not to handle. I thought things were moving along as best they could, considering the unreasonably irate Sal. I felt my boss and I were working as a team; that he was supporting me and I was learning.
Then, all of sudden, I felt like an incompetent fool. I felt like a kid whose Dad tells him, “That’s enough son. Daddy has to do this grown-up part.”
As I’ve written before in a previous column, just like a parent, if you wish your staff to be open with you, you can’t explode when hearing things you don’t like. And if you wish your staff to come to you in crises, you can’t help a little and then take over without giving them a heads up. Perhaps things might have been different if my manager had taken the following approach:
“Listen, this is taking up a lot of your time and I think it’s stressing you out. Do you want me to take it off your plate so you can get back to your day job?”
Unfortunately, he took the condescending parent approach and our relationship suffered for it. I don’t think I ever went to him for consultation again, afraid he’d repeat his past performance.
As leaders, many of us think we know the right way, the best way, to do just about anything our employees do, but acting on that assumption doesn’t make you very good at leading. You have to remember that, though their way may be different, it is not necessarily worse than yours, and perhaps, it’s a whole lot better. You must also remember that letting employees find their own way — and recover from their own stumbles — is how they grow (it’s how you grew), and that, as a leader, should be your primary objective.
I have one core belief when it comes to parenting — the number one thing we should give our children is the confidence to believe they can accomplish, they can achieve, they can figure it out. Should we not also want to give that same feeling to our employees? But remember, the quickest way to take things in the opposite direction is to get frustrated and say, “That’s enough junior. Daddy has to finish this.”