If you’re like most motivated managers who are charged with changing an antiquated culture, it’s very possible your insecurities are actually destroying your team. You accepted your position with the idea you would challenge the status quo of leadership you’ve experienced by being a refuge of encouragement, empowerment, and self-direction. Unfortunately, in your attempt to create this environment of acceptance and appreciation, it’s likely you have found yourself accepting sub-par work at times, which ultimately results in lack of trust for certain direct reports, other team members being frustrated, and overall lower team performance. Even more, as Kim Scott points out in her book Radical Candor, this lack of trust in your team member’s proficiencies will eventually lead to anger and resentment by you and members of your team—further deteriorating your team’s ability to deliver on the things most important to your organization.
The reality is that what people need and want most is the “radical candor” Scott promotes. In other words, what any of us really want is a workplace where we are valued but also held to standards–we want to be challenged to be our best. If you avoid confrontation when team members are not failing to deliver the necessary results, the result is—at best—you terminating that employee within a year, leaving them blindsided and betrayed. Most people know when their work is sub-par, but accepting inadequate work time and time again encourages a workplace of distrust and inauthenticity—the very culture you intended to change.
So, what do you do? If you only allow team members to play in the areas you know they will be successful, you will lose team members because they don’t feel challenged. On the other hand, if your team members feel you are never satisfied with their work, you will lose them because they feel inadequate. It is in this area–finding the sweet spot between not enough opportunity and too much demand–that exceptional bosses separate themselves from adequate bosses. However, knowing this space for each of your direct reports requires you to actually know your direct reports.
Scott’s suggestion—which I believe is absolutely correct—is to be committed to two things: caring personally and challenging directly. Caring personally means you have to invest in your people; your people have to trust you are completely committed to their success. If people trust you are for them, tough conversations are much easier to have. When someone is in over their head, you know it and they do too. Sometimes we simply need to be reminded to live out the things we’ve been taught since pre-school: be decent and be honest.