How New Managers Avoid Becoming Tyrants

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Perhaps you have observed what author, Dacher Keltner, calls “The Power Paradox”: a well-liked employee gets a promotion into management and shortly after, turns into a tyrant. If you are someone who aspires to lead others, how can you avoid a fall into this trap?

First, understand that this tendency to become a hard-nosed, selfish manager is universal, but also peculiar to our culture. It’s well documented in “Why Workers Won’t Work: The Case Study of Jamaica” by Kenneth Carter. He describes the way employees change their minds after entering the supervisory ranks.

Here’s an example. Before their promotion, they report that their colleagues are motivated by training, recognition, and participation. Afterwards, they complain about a lowly fixation on only one thing: money.

At first blush, this shift in perspective may seem to be a Jamaican problem, but it isn’t. According to Keltner, whenever someone gains power, they fall into a trap in which their habits become transformed.

Before being promoted, they demonstrate enduring skills related to empathy, enthusiasm, and giving: factors used in the decision to elevate them. Afterwards their behaviour changes  as they lose “the very skills that enabled <them> to gain power in the first place.”

At this point, he quotes numerous studies showing that people who feel powerful are more likely to lie, steal sweets from children and have affairs. They even give relatively less to charity and engage in more shoplifting. In the local workplace, with its lack of feedback, they can continue to exploit others for years without ever being confronted.

But how do you become the exception?

  1. Manage your busyness

In “The Good Samaritan Study” from 1973, even people who were committed to helping others became uncaring and unkind when they felt rushed. Update that finding and today, we have well-meaning managers with their heads buried in smartphones. They distract themselves, even as they assure an employee crying out for help: “Don’t worry, I am listening – I am a great multi-tasker.” (They aren’t, because no-one is.)

But the answer isn’t to try to do less. That’s not an option.

Instead, to escape the trap you must constantly upgrade your habits, practices and tools to surpass the mediocre standards which prevail in the Caribbean. It will help you approach world-class levels, which is the only way to add even more tasks while maintaining the same peace of mind you had before you were promoted.

  1. Act to give away power

Those who gain power often ignore the fact that it only exists because it’s granted by others. Ousted politicians know this fact all too well, even though it’s the first lesson they forget after winning an elected seat.

The irony is that the more power is given away, the more it is returned. Before you are promoted, you don’t need to know this fact. But once you assume a new management position, you step into the spotlight where everything you do (and don’t do) is now the subject of criticism.

Some new managers argue that it’s unfair. “But I haven’t changed,” they plead.  Unfortunately, as a holder of power, new expectations have instantly and permanently been conferred.

Now, you must work hard to understand how power works, then set about crafting appropriate behaviors. Empowering and enabling other people needs to become a regular, public act.

  1. Beg for Feedback

Given the fact that most managers are blind to the ways power warps them, they need external help to counteract the norm. Someone nearby must be in place to tell them the truth.

In medieval courts, the joker or jester played that role. Now the task falls to a coach or consultant paid to be the exceptional voice of truth: the John the Baptist.

If, as a manager, you find yourself surrounded by people who appear to be telling you stuff you like to hear, or advice which just happens to save their skins from criticism… well, I have bad news. It’s likely that you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, courtesy of your entourage of bootlickers.

In my years as a consultant, the tendency of a manager to fool himself about the true thoughts of those around him is astounding. Consider it an occupational hazard.

To prevent disaster, you must push people hard to tell you the truths you fear the most. Whenever you aren’t doing that, safely assume that you are allowing power to turn you into someone who is less kind, less generous and less concerned with the common good.

Power corrupts. But that’s not the end of the story. With it, you have a tremendous capacity to be of service but the price you pay is a kind of rigorous vigilance that non-managers don’t need. It’s the only way to avoid becoming a Trump-like tyrant.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

How to Optimize Your Strategic Planning Retreat To Prevent Failure

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I was recently called by a company interested in having 60 attendees at their one-day strategic planning event. As they described the desired outcome I decided to give them the bad news up front: they had unwittingly put their goal in jeopardy.

In short, the design of their workshop was in opposition to their intent to produce a quality plan. Too many participants and too little time would guarantee it. In addition, they were increasing the odds of people walking away feeling as if the activity were a waste of their efforts and the company’s money.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem that fixes itself during the retreat. In fact, it’s possible to complete the event without hearing a single complaint.

How could this happen? In the Caribbean, we are polite, unlikely to create waves in the middle of a workshop unless things are going very badly. Compared to other work cultures, we give blighs instead of feedback. The empty-handed reality would only creep in later when everything has quieted down.

Unfortunately, based on the retreat’s “success”, the following year would be likely to see a repeat. Often, it’s easier to go with the flow than to make a fuss, allowing the company to slip into a strategic planning rut from which it cannot escape.

If you are the retreat sponsor, here are a few interventions you can launch to bring new life to your strategic planning meeting.

 

  1. Define What a Successful Retreat Looks Like

The main purpose of this kind of workshop is to make unprecedented decisions. It’s not business-as-usual. This event should be difference-making, not status-quo-reinforcing.

Some mistakenly define the gathering as an opportunity for a team to rubber-stamp the thoughts of a CEO, chairman or outside consultant. If that’s all your company wants to do, save your time and money and have a conference call or pass around a document.

Instead, you should be trying to make the most of everyone’s time, allowing participants to bring their best thinking to the occasion. In this unique space, the range of possibilities becomes dramatically expanded. A new vision for the company may be forged at will.

In a similar vein, you can catalyse complex decisions involving multiple tradeoffs. In the right context, each stakeholder shares his/her expertise, contributing a unique perspective. Together, they shape the firm’s journey from the present to the future, in an effort which requires everyone to be at their best throughout the entire exercise.

Imagine the creation of a fresh strategy which rescues the company from ruin, saving jobs. Or, endorses a new product that becomes a best-seller. Or, carves out a path for decades to come that preserves the organization for future shareholders. These are the kinds of results which make a strategic planning exercise a special opportunity.

  1. Encourage a Balance of Inquiry and Advocacy

 

In a retreat, there is a natural flow between generating more input (“diverging”) and driving towards a conclusion (“converging.”) This movement from one extreme to the other is unlikely to take place by itself, hence the need for someone to play the role of facilitator.

It does not have to be someone from the outside. But an internal employee cannot execute the position without deliberately setting aside their substantive role while they are leading the discussion.

If they do a good job, preserving the balance between inquiry and advocacy, the entire activity comes alive as the tempo shifts from one energy to the other in a structured way. Attendees feel as if they are being heard and no-one departs with an unexpressed thought. The empty space this creates is satisfying, even if it is intensely exhausting.

  1. Control the Number of People

Given the objectives and the flow which must be achieved, there are some limits to the total attendees in a typical two-day activity. (One day is too short to get past polite banter.)

We recommend that between 10-18 people attend. Smaller numbers are dangerous because a single, strong-willed individual can dominate other participants. By contrast, in larger groups, introverts and lower -level attendees get lost, their voices never heard.

However, there are times when a client insists on involving all 60. If you cannot veto the idea, there is a bypass. Simply recognize that the workshop is actually comprised of two distinct exercises: the “real” retreat in which decisions are made plus an additional activity which is intended to achieve other goals.

Act to ensure that the “real” exercise is conducted with high fidelity, using my recommendations. Then, handle the second activity as the engagement boost, fact-finding mission, rubber stamp or feel-good event it honestly is.

In this way, you can avoid the distractions and pitfalls which doom these interventions, and optimize the time spent. As a result, your strategic plan will meet the true needs of your company.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.