Leadership ≠ Dictatorship

In an executive position that I previously held I was building out my team and the company had a policy of recruiting internally first. This policy appeals to me in principle in that it gives employees the chance to widen their skill set and reduces recruitment costs. In theory I should also have access to superior information on the employee, but as it turns out human nature and unethical behaviour circumvents that from happening.

The simple politics involved relates to the goals of the employee’s current manager. If the manager is unscrupulous and wishes to keep the employee then he will give me a negative review. Not too obvious but enough flags to scare me off. This is unfair to the employee as he ends up being chained to a job that is not his first choice, it is unfair to me as I am lied to and it is even not a good choice for the original manager as a good employee who feels stifled will under-deliver and in the end leave the company.

The flip side is a bad employee that the manager wants to get rid of but is too much of a coward to do so. The unscrupulous manager then neglects to highlight any negatives thus baiting the trap and inducing me to hire the employee. This is the scenario that I faced.

The minute I signed the transfer papers I was informed that the ex-manager found the employee in question to be arrogant, difficult to communicate with and impossible to manage. I was not happy. However my interview with the employee had been positive and members in my team also had positive recommendations so I decided to give him a try.

It took only one team meeting to understand why the ex-manager had not been able to build an effective working relationship with the employee. The employee was young, had a fantastic education and was entrepreneurial as evidenced by his launching a start up previous to joining the company. To me this is the perfect background for an employee and I made sure all members of my team not only had the skills but also had the independence to be effective. For the short sighted manager suffering from low self esteem this type of employee is seen as a threat to their perceived authority. All that these managers want is a cog that knows its place and does only as instructed.

Back to the team meeting and my newest team member. As he fired off questions in rapid succession I did not take this as a challenge but understood it for what it was: an independent and self sufficient employee who was simply trying to understand what information he needed to be able to do his job. This was the type of employee I could delegate to. I answered his questions and gave him the information he needed. I also mentored him so that he could differentiate between when to ask a question in a team meeting and when to realise that he was disrupting the meeting and to ask the questions in a one on one meeting with me.

I have heard many managers complain that they cannot delegate to their employees because they could not be trusted. My experience is that the fault lies in the managers who stifle their high potential employees.

Leadership is being able to charge in one direction and trusting that your team will be right behind you.