I am at my wits’ end. I worked hard in college and graduate school and have what some people might call a “Type A” personality. I take on a lot, I work really hard and I complete my work by the agreed-upon deadline.
For the past few years I have been working for a huge organization with a great reputation—but I realized quickly it has a culture of non-accountability.
This didn’t bother me much until recently, when I was promoted to be a department head. I have inherited several folks who clearly have been getting away with less than standard performance for some time. I really do not have the option to clean house—I am going to have to make do. Help! —Making Do
Dear Making Do,
This is definitely a tough one, but there is an opportunity here. If you play your cards right, you could earn yourself a reputation as a leader who can turn a department around.
The first thing to remember is this: horrified though you may be to have inherited a whole staff of people you didn’t choose, neither did your new staff choose you. Imagine what it must be like for them to have yet another new boss, someone they know nothing about, who is coming in to crack the whip. They will absolutely sense your disapproval and will respond by proving you justified in your negative assessment. No one wants to be judged a slacker—and even if you try to cover it up by being nice, people will think you believe you’re better than they are.
So first things first. Take a big deep breath and keep an open mind. Put aside the hearsay about this group’s previous performance and make it your business to get to know these people and find their best so you can leverage it. The most important thing you can do is learn each person’s strengths and interests and then figure out how you can make the best of the situation you are all in.
To understand your people and get them moving forward in a positive way, start by having everyone in the department take the VIA strengths assessment. It is free and easy to complete. Once everyone—including you—has completed the survey, ask each person to craft a self-introduction with personal stories that show up each of their top strengths. You can share one or two at each staff meeting. You might also be interested in having each person complete the StrengthsFinder 2.0 survey—but this one has a charge, so you would need to have the budget for it. Focus on what is best in each person and also what is already working well, and then you can tackle the other stuff.
The next step is for you to create an environment in which your people will get to know you, be inspired by you, and sign up to follow you. The best tool to do this is the Leadership Point of View (LPoV). You can find complete instructions on how to create your LPoV here. An LPoV is essentially a statement of your beliefs and values around leading others. It helps to paint the picture of the future where there is consistency between your values, your words, and your actions. It is ultimately a course on you that teaches people what you expect from yourself and from them. To create your LPoV, think about these things:
- What drives you as a leader?
- Who are the key people who have influenced you? They can be real people, like your Uncle Pat who was the first in the family to go to college, or they can be fictional. For example, I was deeply moved and inspired by the protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird because he stood up for someone who was unfairly accused and was willing to put himself and his family in danger to do the right thing.
- What are the events in your life that shaped you and your attitudes?
- What do you believe about what a leader’s job is?
- What are your leadership values? Which value is most important to you?
Boss watching is a hobby of just about anyone who has a boss. People are always trying to figure out what their boss is really thinking and what their boss really wants. Most bosses keep people guessing. Make it easy for your people to understand you by being explicit about what they can expect from you and what you expect from them. You probably think these things are obvious, but they are not—and in the absence of clear expectations, people will make things up about you. In the worst case scenario, they will continually test you to see what they can get away with. So, if you want people to be on time, tell them. If you expect people to meet their deadlines or to come to you early in the process to explain what will keep them from meeting their deadlines, tell them.
A caveat about sharing your LPoV: you must give your people permission to call you out on it if they experience behavior that is not consistent with your LPoV.
Your people will certainly be interested in your LPoV, and may be surprised by it. Their knowing your LPoV will increase the chances that they will trust you, follow you, and give you their best. People want to do good work and make their bosses happy. The more clear and consistent you are up front, the more successful your connection will be with your people.
Your best option with this new group of folks is to hold yourself to a high standard of leadership. This shouldn’t be a stretch for you, since you are already a hard worker. You can win them over and be role model for higher standards all round. Instead of bemoaning your fate, rise to the occasion! Good luck.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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