Mother May I?

building productive work relationshipsHow to foster “Adult-Adult” relationships with your team.

What do you call someone who lets you cry on their shoulder, mediates your disagreements, solves your problems, tells you what to do – and checks to make sure that you did it?

If you answered “boss,” you’re not alone.

Leaders and managers in all types of organizations – from government and non-profits to the Fortune 100 – struggle with how to establish meaningful and productive relationships with their employees.

If you’re an executive or a manager, it’s easy to be drawn into a parent-child relationship. After all, you have the experience and knowledge. And you’re accountable for the actions of your team. But your employees are your peers – not your children. When you jump in to solve every problem and control every action you essentially become a surrogate mom or dad – an omnipotent authority figure.

When this happens, employees may feel liked or cared for, while at the same time sensing their role as somewhat unempowered or inferior team members who need close direction and supervision to succeed. And, they’ll react appropriately – by spending their energy trying to “please” you and be like you, rather than taking responsibility for, and control of, their own inner leader behaviors and actions.

Among other issues, this paternalistic management style often results in a dangerous knowledge barrier. That’s because when leaders are focused on providing top-down information and direction, they can lose touch with what is really going on in the workplace and the market.

A good example of this are the “Ask our CEO” forums that have become a popular communications strategy in corporate America – especially during times of change or uncertainty. The problem with this approach is that it assumes the leader has all of the answers. It’s the corporate version of “go ask mom or dad.” Consider how much better it would be to facilitate ongoing two-way information sharing – or for the leaders to ask the employees for their thoughts and ideas.

In general, we find the most effective leaders and managers realize that their employees are adults – who by and large successfully manage the dynamics of their personal lives and can be trusted to do the same when they walk into the office each morning.

But it can be hard for executives to find the trust they need to “let go and lead.” How do they know that their team will deliver? That’s why core values are so critical.

Core values – no more than 7 or so typically – are a set of principles that guide an organization’s internal conduct and relationships with the external world. They are a “moral compass” for decision making. And when the culture helps discover and define those values – and they’re incorporated into the hiring, staff development and management processes – collaborative, and mutually supportive adult-adult relationships emerge and build.

Check out our prior blog on core values to learn more. And, stay tuned to Harmony Crew for more enabling an engaged culture.

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