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Debunk myths that keep leaders from becoming strong managers

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 29 September 2017

After conducting research and in-depth interviews with people in leadership and management roles for more than 20 years, Bruce Tulgan, founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking Inc., has become a leading expert on HR and employee relations.

“After 23 years of research, our number one finding: It’s getting harder to manage people,” Tulgan said at the 2016 Progressive Dairy Operators Triennial Dairy Symposium in Toronto, Ontario.

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He continued, “There are two basic reasons. The first reason is: The workplace is becoming more and more high-pressure, and the second reason is: The workforce is becoming more and more high-maintenance.”

Tulgan said there is an under-management epidemic in most workplaces. Managers are too hands-off. They don’t provide enough guidance, direction, support, coaching.

Under-management is costly to any business. It can lead to problems that didn’t have to occur, problems that get out of control, squandered resources, people not following best practices, hidden low performers, mediocre performers who think they are high performers, high performers who choose to leave and leaders doing tasks that should be delegated to someone else.

These costs can be avoided by leaders who spend more time in high-substance, high-structure communication, spelling out expectations, tracking performance, troubleshooting, problem-solving and giving people the kind of guidance and support they need.

However, most leaders have never had any formal management training. They are making it up as they go along and are doing what comes naturally. Because of this, they are more likely to fall into at least one of seven myths that prevent leaders from being strong, highly engaged managers.

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The following are the seven myths Tulgan outlined.

1. Myth of empowerment. “The myth is not that you should empower people – of course you should empower people; the myth is that somehow the way to empower people is to leave them alone to manage themselves,” Tulgan said. “‘Sink or swim’ is not empowerment; it is negligence.”

This myth enables managers to let themselves off the hook. They don’t have to actively lead because they are “empowering people.”

Real empowerment takes hard work. Most people do much better work when they have guidance, direction, support and coaching from someone with more experience and more commitment.

“If you want to empower people, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves,” Tulgan said. “You’ve got to put the same kind of attention to taking care of people that you put into taking care of animals. They require care and feeding also.”

2. Myth of fairness. Fairness does not mean you should treat everybody the same. It is giving everybody an opportunity to succeed. This means doing more for some and less for others based on what they deserve.

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“There is nothing fair about treating high performers and low performers the same,” Tulgan said. “In order to differentiate between high performers and low performers, you’ve got to keep score. That requires highly engaged leadership.”

To do this, you need to make expectations clear, track performance and keep score when people are winning, not just when they are losing.

“You can’t just keep score on the bottom line numbers or outcomes. You’ve got to keep score when it comes to the concrete actions in control of the individuals. That takes engagement. It means you’ve got to be paying attention,” he said.

3. Myth of the jerk boss. Tulgan said this is more likely to occur in small or family-oriented businesses to create a collegial environment. According to his research, in most cases when employees think their immediate boss is a jerk, it’s because the boss is too weak, not because the boss is too strong.

Common jerk boss scenarios include:

  • The boss who doesn’t keep track on the front lines but then shows up and makes a big decision that affects everyone.

  • The boss who pretends decisions are up to their employees when they actually are not.

  • The boss who lets small problems slide which then fester, grow and become bigger problems.

  • The boss who doesn’t know how to build rapport with people by talking about the work, so they fake a friendship.

  • The boss who soft-pedals his or her authority until they get angry and chew someone out or act passive-aggressive.

When it comes to being the boss, Tulgan said, “Don’t worry about being too strong; worry about being too weak.”

He added, “Don’t mistake having the occasional tantrum for being strong. There is nothing strong about a tantrum. A tantrum is just loud, nasty weakness.”

4. Myth of the difficult confrontation. Through research, Tulgan learned if you want to avoid difficult conversations in the workplace, you have to have a lot of boring conversations.

“What’s missing is all of the boring conversations spelling out expectations,” he said. “Turn yourself into a broken record.”

If you do, things are much more likely to go right. If things go wrong, you’ll have been saying it over and over again, which makes having the difficult conversation easier because you aren’t addressing the issue for the first time.

If you build rapport with employees around the work in a structured, business-like way and not around things that are personal, the rapport can last through difficult conversations.

5. Myth of the natural leader. “‘I’m a farmer, not a natural leader. Nobody ever taught me.’ People say that to me all of the time,” he said.

There is good news and bad news with this myth. The bad news is: If you’re not a natural leader, nobody can teach you leadership. In addition, even natural leaders need to learn the basics of management. The good news, Tulgan said, is anybody, whether or not they are a natural leader, can learn these basics.

Good leaders take the time to practice the basics. “Leaders make time every day to have regular structured conversations with their people where they remind them of expectations. They tell them what takes priority and what goes on the back burner. They remind them how to get the resources they need and, if they can’t get the resources they need, here’s what to do,” Tulgan said.

“Those are the basics, and the basics are all you need,” he added. “Anyone can get good at this, and if you practice, you’ll get good at it.”

Another way to become a better leader is to teach people how to follow. “Nobody teaches people how to follow anymore,” Tulgan said. “If you want to make your job a whole lot easier, step one: Teach all of your employees how to follow.”

To do this, establish the ground rules of the management relationship, what the expectations are, that there will be daily conversations and what will be discussed. Teach them about teamwork, citizenship and service; how to respect authority; and how to solve problems.

6. Myth of “red tape.” Leaders will say people are their number one asset – but yet they cannot be bothered to keep track of them in writing.

“If you care about your management relationships, you have to keep track of it in writing, but most leaders in the real world only keep score when people are losing. You’ve got to keep score when people are winning. You’ve got to keep score when things are going right, wrong and average,” he said.

In order to differentiate between high performers and low performers, hold people accountable and insist they perform according to your standards, you need to have written expectations and monitor, measure and document performance.

By keeping written records, it sends a message that you are serious, it will trump any differing recollections, it can be referenced when offering a differential reward, and it can be used to hold someone accountable.

7. Myth of time. “This is the most important,” Tulgan said. “The myth is not that there is not enough time. The reality is: There is not enough time.”

It means you do not have the time to not provide guidance, direction support and coaching. If you don’t spend time up-front in advance, your business is subject to the costs outlined in the beginning of this article.

Tulgan found managers who are most convinced they don’t have time typically spend more time managing than anyone else. They just spend all of their management time in crisis mode, resolving problems that didn’t have to happen in the first place.

“If you don’t manage up-front, then what you end up doing is spending a whole bunch of your management time fire-fighting. Something I’ve learned from firefighters is: They spend most of their time doing fire prevention. Managing up-front in advance is fire prevention. It is a whole lot easier to prevent a fire than it is to put one out,” he said.  end mark

Karen Lee
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