A couple of decades ago, my daughter accompanied me to my cubicle in the Pentagon as part of Take Your Child to Work Day. Pretty boring for an 11-year-old who observed that my entire morning consisted of “playing” on the computer, talking to my friends around the office and on the phone, and wandering around the 17 miles of corridors visiting with people in other cubicles about nonsensical things.
At lunchtime, we were crossing the 5-acre center courtyard looking for child-friendly food when she looked up at me and asked, “Dad, when are you going to get a real job?”
“A real job like what, Honey?”
Pointing to the hard-hatted workers repairing the roof, she knowingly replied, “like those guys up there.”
I’m sure she wasn’t the only one in my office that day without a clue how I really spent my time.
Ever wonder what some people in our organizations really do to earn their paychecks? I mean, besides transporting their coffee cup from one office to another, what do they actually do?
Of course we have.
On the flip side, do people in our organizations wonder what we get paid to do? Heaven forbid!
Because we’re leaders, most of us think we know exactly what each member or our team does, but we’re a little fuzzy when it comes to what our boss does. Which is odd, since we’re sure our boss doesn’t know what all we do to lead our teams, just like we’re sure our team members don’t appreciate all the effort we put in behind the scenes for their benefit. They probably think we spend our days chatting on the phone, playing on the computer, and visiting with people in other parts of the building.
In other words, it’s a phenomenon we talk about as if we’re not a part of the equation. Why is that? Why do we think we’re the only leader in the company who’s in the know?
And does it even matter?
It matters only if we care what kind of culture our organization has. If there is a lack of awareness about what others in the company are doing, it means we probably work for a company that isn’t transparent and isn’t preparing the next generation of leaders. It means we aren’t making sure our team members know where they fit into the overall strategy, and we might not even be sure where we fit in. It means we’re not empowering our people to do more than the minimum required to keep their jobs.
I’ve gotten pushback from almost everyone I bring this up to. The typical response: “I know exactly what my team does! And I know what my boss’s job is.”
And I throw the BS flag every time.
We may know what we expect of our teams and whether or not they deliver, but it’s not the same as appreciating the effort it takes them or knowing if we’re utilizing their true capabilities and capacity… even if we’ve had their job before. Same reason we don’t think our boss knows what we really do. It doesn’t have to be that way.
We’re better leaders when we know what our teams are struggling with to be successful – and whether we’re challenging them to be even more successful. And we gain that understanding by (wait for it…) talking with them and not just to them.
We’re better leaders when we make sure people know how their performance and successes contribute to the company’s overall success. That’s part of making them feel valued for their efforts.
We’re better leaders when we empower our teams to take on greater responsibilities that prepare them for future challenges. Along the way, we usually find they can accomplish some of what we do, enabling us to focus some of our efforts elsewhere – like maybe how we can enable our boss to focus their efforts on others.
And we’re better leaders when we do these things without causing our teams to feel micromanaged or being seen as managing up. Remember, our success depends on the team’s success… and so does our boss’s.
Does any of this ring a bell? Can we be more selflessly engaged in people’s roles up and down the organizational structure?
It’s up to you, leaders.