Whether Your Management Style is Trending “Hard” or “Soft”, Some Iron Laws Are Immutable

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Author: Bill Catlette | Source: HCI | Published: September 9, 2016
management style leadership

Spurred by incessant jousting over whether one of the U.S. presidential candidates might be “hardening or softening” their position on immigration policy, I thought recently about an altogether different arena, the workspace, and the evolution of management style that many of us find ourselves in the midst of, as we journey between a top-down command and control style (hard), and a more collegial and inclusive (softer) style. Regardless of where one is on that transition curve, and your direction of travel, there are still some universal precepts, ‘iron laws’ if you will, that bear adherence. Based on some of the conversations that have cropped up of late in my coaching practice, here are three that bear mentioning:

Good leaders say “no”… a lot

Two of the biggest things I see leaders at all levels struggling with are, 1) dealing with the enormous daily pile of incoming, be it text, voice, or anxious faces standing in the doorway, and 2) the urge to be “in” on every meeting, relationship, and decision.

In short, whether due to our own insecurities or perhaps a felt need to be popular / helpful, we tend to over-involve ourselves, and to over-commit the precious moments on our calendar. As a result, we wind up going home at the end of the day having not gotten a lot of the right stuff done, having not one nanosecond of white space within which to think, and feeling as though we’ve just spent nine hours drinking through a fire hose.

In a nutshell, we must be ever mindful of the need to be both thoughtful and judicious about where our time, energy, and talents are invested. Use of the word, “invested” is highly intentional, because that’s exactly what we should be doing, rather than indiscriminately spending those same assets. Politely saying “no” to, or disengaging from tasks and activities that are outside the scope of our mission and priorities is essential to our survival, let alone success.

Here’s a tip: Identify someone within your sphere who is well skilled in this area and make it a point to study their behaviors. Or, take the more direct approach – reach out to them, and just ask.

When everyone is accountable, no one is accountable

With each passing day, more and more work is dispatched to and accomplished by ad hoc teams. More often than one might expect, those teams are effectively leaderless, either with no one declared or functioning in a leadership capacity, to wit, the odds for project success are diminished. At the very least, this lack of clarity produces dysfunction.

With or without a designated leader, teams should take pains to ensure that accountability for project deliverables is clearly defined. Though it can be a bit of an awkward conversation to have, especially among peers who may not know one another well, it is vital nonetheless.

As a frequent air traveler, it’s comforting to know that before every takeoff, the flight crew goes through an emergency checklist that results in a clear delineation of decision factors, and who is going to do what in the event of an in-flight emergency. Having been on the flight deck as a jumpseat passenger during a couple such emergencies, it’s really comforting to know that stuff was covered before takeoff.

Here’s a tip: Make sure that any team initiatives that you launch include solid accountability measures. And, should you find yourself on such a team absent the necessary clarity, either speak up or hit the exit.

Treat adults like adults

I was heartened by a recent conversation with the CHRO of a large, US-based multinational firm. He pointed out that, whether it’s in the year 1950 or 2020, we’ve got work that needs to be done, we rely on people to get much of that work done, and regardless of their generational cohort, ethnicity, race, or culture, we all operate pretty much on the same set of sensitivities, and have a reasonable understanding of the difference between right and wrong. To wit (and this is where I couldn’t believe I was talking with an HR guy), he advocated firmly that we, 1) Not burden people with a blizzard of policies which suggest that they’re still in diapers, and 2) Treat those adults as adults, whether things are going well, or the wheels are coming off. In other words, don’t coddle or mislead them. Wow!

Short message: Don’t weigh people down with a lot of bureaucratic nonsense that only demeans them and keeps them from doing their best work (or even wanting to). Treat people like the adults you thought they were when you hired them and they probably won’t disappoint.

Good luck!



Bill Catlette (www.LinkedIn.com/in/BillCatlette) is an executive coach, business author, and advisor to management. His mission involves developing competent, confident leaders & teams who people want to do great work with (@ContentedCows) AND, in a different space, advocating for transplant patients (@NFT).