Leaders: Stop Being So Responsible

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Leadership Development

I want to admit right up front, when I was a corporate employee, I was, let’s say, “challenging.”

Several years ago I was meeting with my boss about me potentially becoming a supervisor. He started telling me what he liked least about being a supervisor.

He said, “giving people bad news.”  It’s just so painful, just so hard to tell people something that is going to hurt them. He went on for awhile about this.

Sometimes I wonder if I channel messages from another realm (or I was just embarrassingly arrogant) because this is what came out of my naive, inexperienced little self.

Not that I would like to give people bad news, but I would rather be the person to do it because I’m going to be more focused on what they need rather than what I’m going through.”

Now to give my supervisor credit, I suspect he was testing my reaction. Since then I have coached many supervisors in this position, and been in this position plenty of times myself. It’s way too easy to get caught up in our own response.

What keeps us there?

“The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence.” – M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

I find this in so many issues that managers bring to our coaching. It is perfectly understandable to feel responsible for “making them feel bad,” when you are delivering a message that may upset someone. Yes, you are delivering the message, but in most cases the facts of the situation exist despite the fact that you are the one delivering the message.

What are you responsible for?

If we are going to “feel responsible,” let’s feel responsible for the right stuff!

As a leader in this situation, what I feel responsible for is:

– preparing for the discussion

– making sure they understand what the message means, and what it doesn’t mean

– ensuring they know who can support them and how

– helping them identify what they can do when they leave the room

If we can get past our own discomfort, we can actually do our organization members a great service. When we get a handle on our own “stuff,” we can help employees see a way through their situation to get to the point where they can… productively do work. And perhaps you’ve built more “trust capital” in the relationship at the same time.

What’s it going to take for you to get over yourself?

Originally posted on Mary’s blog: www.reimaginework.com


What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers: http://www.reimaginework.com/LCG/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Diana  |  21 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Thank you for a great title Mary! I am a fairly new senior supervisor and was fortunate enough to have a mentor that shared your views! I learned from him that the sharing of information, perspective and views are just that. The inference from the receiver is the negative side, the defensive wall and what, as human being, we easily react to. My mantra has been to “put it on the table for discussion and do with the the right intent, not to humilate, hurt or attack, but to help, grow and open a mutually respectful relationship.”
This was a lesson learned by me when, at my wits end with an employee who had performance issues and was not ameniable to making any necessary changes, I simply stopped my ‘constructive feedback’, closed my notebook, put down my pen and leaned forward to ask “You don’t trust me, do you?” The shift in response was huge, and we started making steps towards a mutally respectful working relationship.

Mary C Schaefer  |  21 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Wow Diana, that is a *powerful* story about how you handled that difficult employee situation. Your mentor is wise and my guess is that you have some intuitive leadership traits yourself even though you are a fairly new senior supervisor. I would love to see a post from you on this!

Thanks for commenting,

Join The Conversation