Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Help, My New Manager and I Have Different Leadership Styles!

I received this question from a reader after I wrote a post about different leadership styles:

I manage a team of Millennials in a very fast paced Marketing/Communications firm. So as you can imagine the atmosphere tends to be a little more creative, fun and relaxed. A new VP was recently brought in over my department who, in my opinion, has a very “old school” approach to managing people and setting expectations. He has a very “coercive” approach to managing, which differs greatly from my “coaching” style. I’ve provided him articles and research on managing Millennials in the hope that he may see there are other considerations that are more important than “must be here at 7:55 am, not 8:00 am” in order to make the best use of the talent and contributions these individuals can make to our organization. His response to everything he read is it is in line with what he is currently doing and frankly he thinks there is nothing wrong with challenging them to come around to his way of thinking. Anyway, I am challenged to take his demands and integrate them into the department in an effective and productive way. Two questions for you really…any advice for dealing with him and our differing styles? And any advice on how to make the two worlds come together?

It’s always a challenge giving advice when you’re only getting one side of a story. So in the absence of hearing the VP’s side of the story, I’m going to make up what he might have wrote:

I’m the new VP in charge of a Marketing/Communications firm, having been brought in to turn around an underperforming, yet promising firm. I’m challenged by one of the departments I’m responsible for. One issue, amongst many, is the lack of performance standards, discipline, and professionalism. For example, the manager in charge of this team seems to think it’s OK for some of her employees to come and go as they please. She doesn’t understand that those that arrive early resent those that stroll in whenever they want. The other managers have made a few comments about this as well.
I’ve tried to talk to her about it, and her response has been to try to “educate me” about how to manage Millennials. She keeps leaving articles and research on my desk, hoping that I’ll come around to her way of seeing things.
I’m trying to challenge these employees to come around to MY way of thinking, but I’m not getting much support from her, and it’s very apparent to them that we don’t see eye to eye.
I’m challenged to change the culture of this department, and my patience is wearing out with this manager. Any advice on how to deal with this situation and this manager?

So my first piece of advice is to put yourself in his shoes, and be open to the possibility that you may be presenting as much as a challenge to him as he’s presenting to you.

This may or may not be true, who knows. But here’s what I do know: When a new VP is brought in, it’s usually because there’s a need for change.

He’s going to come in with ideas on how to do things that you and your employees may not agree with. He’s looking for you and the rest of the management team to be open to his new ideas and support him. Your job is to help your employees adapt to and accept these changes and be successful.
(Take a look at a post I wrote called 10 Ways to Get Off on the Right Foot with Your New Manager.)

Crucial conversations
Let’s assume that you’ve already done all of this, and you’re still not seeing eye to eye.

When opinions vary, stakes are high, and emotions run strong, then I’d highly recommend buying and reading the book “Crucial Conversations, Tools for Talking when Stakes are High”.

It will give you a powerful, seven-step approach to handling difficult conversations with confidence and skill. The techniques are geared toward getting people to lower their defenses, creating mutual respect and understanding, increasing emotional safety, and encouraging freedom of expression.

I’ve read the book several times, have taken the training that goes with it, and have used the skills successfully at work and home. It wouldn’t serve you well for me to summarize the steps in this article- you really need to read the entire book.

Then have that talk with your VP.

Good luck!


Vasilij said...

I would actually try to understand the new VP, his values and personality. Also I totally agree about trying to see the picture from VP point of view.

If he was brought from outside, that would mean organisation has some problems it believes it can not solve on its own. (there might be other options, like favouritism and like, but let's try to be optimistic about that)

I think that giving articles and research was a bad move. It indirectly shows that you perceive him/her as not very competent and in need of education.

Also it is not clear if the team in question performs well by management standards. Maybe it became more of a social club, that does not get work done.

Mitch said...

Wow, very nicely written. I often forget to see the other side of the story when I'm answering questions like this, although the advice you gave is close to what I'd have eventually gotten to. And Crucial Conversations is a fantastic book, and one that should be given to every new manager in any business.

Dan McCarthy said...

Vasilij, Mitch -
I’m not so sure I enjoy the “ask me a question” feature of this blog. I’m not comfortable spouting off advice without being able to ask a lot of questions and have a discussion.
Anyway, I sure hope I’ve helped.

Mitch said...

Well, you do put yourself out there, but you know, I always figure that working for oneself is a gamble, and if one is going to represent themselves as something they should go ahead, do what's necessary, and if someone disagrees,... well, everyone has their opinion, and that's what makes this country great. You did a great job.