Sticky Situations: how to navigate management landmines

Posted October 10, 2011 in Communication, Latest News & Insights

Last week, we kicked off fall with a PowerRoundtable session diving into the topic of management train wrecks.  Our three executive panelists – Luisa Girotto, General Manager, TerraCycle Canada;  Angela Coke, Associate Deputy Minister,  HROntario, Ministry of Government Services; and Jeff Zajac, President & Founder, Solus One– all shared some of their memorable moments with our audience.  For those who missed it, here’s a few of the lessons learned from a discussion that ran the gambit from how to manage a difficult employee to what it’s like to work for a crazy boss.

  1. Know thy self… to navigate most management situations, the more you know and understand yourself, the better.  Situations are never one-sided and every manager needs to be aware of how he/she may be contributing to the drama.
  2. Up your communication skills… most challenging situations come down to communication (or rather, lack of or poor communication).  If conflict makes you squeamish, if  addressing performance is something you avoid, or if you’re just too blunt for your own good, then think about what you can do to get better.
  3. Assume good intent… most people don’t go in to work to do a lousy job.  Most people want to do well.  Seek first to understand and take an open and inviting approach vs. an aggressive and accusatory one.  People will surprise you.
  4. Clearly define expectations… don’t assume that people understand what is expected from them.  They probably don’t.  If you have a competency model, use it.  If not, spell it out clearly.  What does meeting expectations, exceeding or below look like.  Outline behaviours as well as skills and knowledge.
  5. Don’t be wishy-washy… it’s easy to back pedal from tough performance discussions when a direct report gets emotional, sullen or bursts into tears.  Don’t back down from following through on the discussion.  Take a break if you need to, provide the feedback that they employee needs to hear in a manner that’s firm, fair and friendly.
  6. Prepare yourself… don’t feel pressured to react when you find yourself in a charged conversation.  Stop, slow down and carefully consider your message.  You will have one chance to deliver a tough message well, so don’t be bullied in to blurting something out that you’ll later regret.
  7. Be honest and respectful… you don’t have to say anything for people within a team to feel tension.  If there is tension between you and a colleague, take the steps needed to clear the air.  Not addressing it won’t make it go away and will only create an even greater challenge within the team.
  8. Have courage… addressing any uncomfortable situation takes courage.  Sometimes asking yourself “what’s the worst thing that can happen” can free you and help you take the steps needed to confront the issues and help move the situation to a more positive place.  And sometimes, especially if you’re working for a difficult or abusive boss, you need to have the courage to walk away.

Listening to the discussion from our panelists and at the tables, I was left with the conclusion that, often, sticky situations are in the eye of the beholder.  What I may find exceptionally difficult to do, someone else may find to be quite straightforward.  To me, this speaks to the benefits of having great sounding boards around you to help you think through your tough challenges, offer different view points and share with you strategies that work.  Leadership is learned by doing…not in a text-book.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our session last week.  I hope you walked out with one or two new strategies and perspectives to help you deal with your next “sticky situation.”  Join us next month, when we welcome Wayne Bossert, Executive Vice-President Sales, RBC Canadian Banking and President & CEO, Royal Mutual Funds Inc. to share with us some of his best lessons learned through his rise through the ranks of one of Canada’s most respected banks.  In the meantime…

Happy leading!

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