Eric Krueger

The Leadership Trope Trap

Why do some leaders turn out to have leadership traits in direct contract to what they advertise? Take, for example, this common micromanager situation:

100% of people in new leadership positions will advertise that they are not micromanagers. They insist that they have a "disdain" for micromanagement, that they would never dream of micromanaging, and that micromanagement is unproductive (and "we're all adults here"). They'll cite that they themselves have been victims of micromanagement, and can empathize with being victims of micromanagement in the past.

Their team breathes a sigh of relief at their manager's insistence on these point. However they soon realize that this person is, in fact, exactly the kind of manager they're purporting themselves not to be.

It Comes From A Good Place (Usually)

It stems from a lack of experience. New leaders (who haven't had formal leadership training) that find themselves in a leadership role often fall victim to something I call the Leadership Trope Trap.

The Leadership Trope Trap: Without formal training or practice in a leadership role, new leaders draw on the experiences they do have (as individual contributors), and cite common leadership tropes that they've heard over the course of their career, but fail to implement them due to the lack of skills required to do so.

Effective implementation of leadership philosophies requires a multitude of complex leadership skills, all of which are disconnected from simply remembering and recanting a phrase. In addition to the "I'm not a micromanager" trope, here are a few others:

We can break each of these others a bit further to demonstrate my point.

I'm Not A Micromanager Trope

Not being a micromanager means you have to trust your team, and be comfortable delegating.

By definition, if you don't trust your team, you'll want to verify everything they do - which leads to micromanagement. Trusting your team means you:

You also need to be comfortable delegating work to your team, and (increasingly as your team grows), be comfortable not knowing all the inner workings/day-to-day activities. Without the skills and experience of delegating, and the trust that your team will surface important information to you when it's appropriate, it's difficult to not micromanage.

My Door Is Always Open Trope

For your door to always be open, you need to be really good at time management, scheduling, receiving feedback, and empathizing/adjusting your conversational style.

If you're always in meetings, by definition your door can't be open! In order for you to have your door open (literally, and metaphorically), it means you have to keep time on your calendar for you to be specifically available for people to stop by!

This is difficult as a new leader because prior to this, your job was to find your way into the right meetings (as an individual contributor). Keeping meetings off your calendar is a separate problem that requires new skills like saying no or crafting processes/procedures that eliminate unnecessary meetings.

If you're able to keep meetings off your calendar (congrats!), there is still the extra work of encouraging the behavior of people swinging by to talk to you with that open door you've advertised. People won't come talk to you, or feel like your "door is always open" if they have negative experiences taking you up on that offer. For their experience to be positive, you need to be really good at receiving feedback, and adjusting your conversational style in real-time to the tone best suited for the situation.

I Love Feedback Trope

To receive good feedback, you need to cultivate an atmosphere where your team feels comfortable sharing honest opinions with you.

It's tough; and, that comfort doesn't originate from you saying "don't worry, you can be honest with me". There's a trust component to feeling comfortable that is cultivated, and it happens slowly, and deliberately. Your team will see how you react to feedback over time, and adjust the level they share with you based on your actions. It's your behavior (not what you say) that matters.

Any Process Improvement Ideas You Have Are Welcome Trope

Soliciting process improvement ideas from your team requires a deep understanding of an organizations processes, and an ability to synthesize the "why" behind a rejection.

Improving processes is something everyone should be thinking about, all the time - and so you want to encourage folks to bring forward new ideas. On the other hand, as a manager, your purview is larger, and you may need to reject/clarify ideas for reasons that your direct reports are not aware of (and couldn't have anticipated).

This is a careful balance. If you don't understand your organizations processes, can't explain why you've said no, or don't implement a version of any process improvement ideas - you actively discourage new ideas from your team.

What Good Leadership Looks Like

I'm not saying that if you use any of these phrases, you're a bad leader. They're leadership tropes for a reason. Everyday, excellent leaders employ these ideas with success. The point I'm making is that it takes a combination of skills to effectively commit yourself to the ideas embodied in each of these tropes. Certainly, it takes more than just saying the words. There is a responsibility you must impose upon yourself to make them successful through careful cultivation of those you lead.


Enjoyed? You can subscribe to my blog. Comments? Send me a message.

#leadership #word smatter