I am a VP in an organization and I have a decent team, all of whom I inherited when I joined the organization two years ago. Everyone on my team is experienced and considered senior.
I have done everything I can think of to make everyone’s role and responsibilities crystal clear—yet I find myself constantly disappointed in my people. Examples of shenanigans I run across: one team member consistently fails to upload a weekly report that is required and needed by others and has to be reminded. Another creates emergencies where no emergency should be. And yet another recently failed to prepare adequately for a presentation to a team of my peers and my boss.
Am I overly critical? Are my standards too high? Should I be giving passes when I know people have a lot on their plate? Is it me? Is it my team? What is going on? Any light you are able to shed would be great.
It’s you. Sorry.
You know this isn’t personal because I don’t know the details. But it is always the leader. Always. When a leader is complaining about their people, it is time for the leader to look in the mirror. You’re the leader, so, yeah, it’s you.
So let’s look in that mirror. Have you always been disappointed in people on your previous teams? If the answer is yes, it means you have high standards that you have not properly shared with the people who work for you. If the answer is no, it means you have not done a good enough job of sharing your standards with this particular team. It isn’t that your expectations are too high; it’s that your people aren’t aware of what they are.
Somehow, although you have been clear about roles and responsibilities, you have not been explicit enough about your expectations. Somehow, you have sent the message that it is OK to miss deadlines with reports; you have sent the message that creating an emergency where none should exist is a judgment call that can be made without your input; and you have allowed your team members to think that showing up inadequately prepared is acceptable.
It is a common mistake to think that just because people are experienced and, as you say, “senior,” it means they will have the same professional standards as you. That just is not the case—standards for professionalism are all over the board. If you want your team members to rise to yours, you must tell them what they are.
I recently had a client ask “Do I really need to tell people I expect them to show up on time to meetings?” The answer is yes. Yes, you do. These days there is such diversity of culture, context, generations, and backgrounds that you just can’t expect everyone to read your mind. There is a good chance your team’s last boss either had different standards than yours or didn’t hold people accountable for the same things you think are important.
Just because something is obvious to you does not mean it is obvious to everyone else. So here are some examples of expectations you might want to share with your people:
- If you are presenting to people outside the team, please schedule time to review the content with me and make sure you do a practice session with the technology before go time.
- If you are considering escalating anything to emergency status with another department, please consult with me on the tactical approach first.
- Do what you say you are going to do.
- This report needs to be submitted on time and here’s why ________________.
- Submit all work at or before deadline or inform me you will be delayed and negotiate for more time.
- Be on time for meetings or let me know you will be late.
- Proof all final work before sharing it with anyone outside the department.
I just kind of made these up based on what you shared and some whoppers I have heard from clients. The beauty of disappointment is that it is data—it is information about something you think is obvious to others that, in fact, is not. Every time you are disappointed, it points to a standard you have that you have not made explicit.
Assuming you have good rapport with your people and they know you have their back, you can share your expectations and remind them as needed without judgment. In most organizations, people have more work than they can handle, so they will always look for places where they can cut. If they know you are paying attention, they won’t choose the places that matter to you if they know what they are.
Your job is to help your people do their best work and help them shine. As long as your standards are designed to do that, you will be just fine.
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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