Q: I’m not sure what’s up with my team. We have a lot of ambiguity in our company and I’m using what I consider to be a leadership best practice of keeping the unknowns to myself so that the team won’t be stressed. But I’m getting challenged by them for leaving them in the dark and making decisions without their input. How can I get them on board with my approach?
Geoff, 55, VP, operations
A: Consider that your “best practice” approach may actually have major flaws.
This may be hard for you to see, so look at it from a variety of perspectives.
Imagine that you’re in the first few years of your career. For a generation that cares deeply about empowerment, being heard, and making a contribution, your approach will feel extremely paternalistic.
Now think about a senior employee. They will be accustomed to assessing risks and weighing options. Again, this old-school approach will feel very disempowering.
This will be even more true for women on your team, as the still (unfortunately) flourishing differential between men and women in the workplace may be very triggering. Also consider whether a person of color may have their own lens that affects their experience of your style.
Your approach may be less damaging in a steady state time, but during a time of ambiguity, it will be especially ineffective.
By staying quiet, you’re creating an information void. People will create their own narratives to fill in the blank, and fear typically drives people to expect the worst. This is the worst possible outcome for you and your team.
Consider your goals: you want to minimize anxiety, strengthen engagement and maintain productivity, right?
Look at other ways to lead.
Hint: it’s going to be all about communication that is appropriately open. There will be information you can’t share, so you’ll need to use discernment to determine what you can and should let people know.
This is harder. If you’re not in the habit of investing time in communicating with your team, this will be a practice you need to develop.
It also requires a certain amount of vulnerability. Sharing what you know and don’t know may feel like it weakens your position of power as leader. It should. Power as leader is a dysfunctional concept in this context.
You may also face more conflict in your communications as team members engage more. This is a healthy team dynamic; you want your team members to bring alternative perspectives, ideas and solutions.
However, if you’re conflict averse, this might feel pretty scary. This will be your growth point. As a senior leader, you simply must learn to manage your own biases at work.
This can be a transformational moment for you. Letting your team participate more in matters that affect them deeply will give them more confidence in you, help them develop and will make you a better leader.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and owner of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.