As an executive, leadership coach and consultant over the past 15 years, I have worked with hundreds of managers and leadership teams ranging from medium sized companies to large global brands.
Frequently I raise innovative ideas about perception measurement tools, which mean their junior management teams need to reflect on their performance.
What I’m talking about here are surveys and tools that measure an employee’s perception of their organisation or manager.
I often find that senior managers are worried about how their more junior managers will cope with any negative feedback.
It’s a little ironic really – given that one of the best ways to nurture talent is to start with an open discussion around strengths and weaknesses.
Why don’t senior managers trust their juniors?
So why does this occur?
My experience permits me a reasonably educated guess.
As someone who has coached many managers and leaders one-on-one, dissecting how their beliefs shape their behaviour, I see a prevalent pattern in how people judge others.
I consistently see people making judgments based only on their interactions with that person. What I do not see, is many people considering the impact of their own behaviour, or the impact of their reaction on others.
This is part of human nature.
But while it is normal, it is flawed.
People are not the sum of their interactions with us personally.
To adopt this view is somewhat narcissistic.
If we stop and consider how someone may behave when they are not in our presence, we can quickly appreciate that the behaviours we may witness from them may not be indicative of the normal behaviour or character of that person.
Rather this may only be their normal behaviour when they interact with us, on the topics we normally interact with them on.
If we interacted on other topics and issues, we would likely find very different behaviours. This in turn would modify our perception of the other person.
The challenge with this, is that we have to stop and invest the time in taking this cognitive workout – and most of us don’t. We just tend to judge what we see and extend this out to apply to the person holistically.
Let’s now consider the types of regular interactions that senior managers have with more junior managers.
Frequently they’re tasked with putting out fires.
If we take this into consideration, we can appreciate senior managers can form negative perceptions over time about the interest and indeed the capability of more junior managers to take on more than the elementary people management challenges.
On the flip side junior managers may react to communication through their lens of not being trusted. They may seek extra guidance, support and approval, when it’s not actually needed. Or they may be reluctant to express confidence in their own ideas.
Trust is everything, start building it now
It’s a fundamental tenet that to actually trust people we have to give them the opportunity to be trusted. If you treat someone like they are not capable of change, you never give them the opportunity to prove you wrong. The interaction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When you think of how many successful businesses are driven by ideas that come directly from their people, then you can see how self-limiting these beliefs are, and how easily and quickly people become institutionalised into not stretching themselves.
If you’re in charge of people and you suspect this is your way of operating, I challenge you to examine your beliefs.
When I have experienced senior managers taking a leap of faith and actually start to engage with junior managers on more strategic or innovative concepts, projects, or ways to lead people, they are often surprised and delighted at what they experience.
At this time of the calendar year, it is a great time to stop and reflect on the relationships we have built in the last 12 months.
You might want to ask – what is the quality and what level of satisfaction resides in those relationships?
With my executive coaching clients, I ask them to do this as a way of reflecting and then evaluating both what has led to this and what can be done to strengthen it in the coming months.
This active reflection based exercise also allows for positive reinforcement of what has led to strong relationship and what may have been lacking from those that need more attention.
For any executive this active reflection exercise is an excellent one to do.
Anthony Sork is an Executive Coach and is Managing Director of Sork HC. He is a regular speaker and writer on leadership, human capital and employee attachment topics. Sork HC has just launched a new platform for measuring and managing Employee Attachment and Detachment called shcBOND.