Leading Leaders: Remove The Backfire of Ambush | #LeadMorale

When leading leaders, do you lead with integrity and courage? Or do you ambush and abandon them when the employees they lead resist change?

Abandoning the leaders you lead is a trust crushing ambush that backfires on you, on them, and on bottom line results. If you have second thoughts on any issue, take ownership at your level. Then reposition everyone toward a new view and path to success. It leads morale.

Leading Leaders

Leading Leaders: Remove the Backfire of Ambush Image by:Kenny Moller

Image by: Kevin Moller via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Leading Leaders Ambush: True Story of a Leader Ambushing a Direct Report

Picture an organization where productivity and financial results mean everything. Pat is the high level leader, Lee is a manager who reports to Pat, and Chris reports to Lee. Pat is aware from Lee that Chris is engaging in truly unprofessional behavior, is not focused on work, and is unproductive. Chris spends excessive amounts of time texting friends, fielding personal phone calls, and watching YouTube.

Lee discusses the issues with Chris, clarifies what behaviors are needed, and encourages Chris to ask for any help needed in becoming more focused. Chris continues with the same unacceptable behaviors and even shows great public disrespect for Lee in meetings. Chris also dismisses verbal warnings and written indicators.

At performance review time, Lee shows Pat the review he has written about Chris before sharing it with Chris. Pat says that the review is accurate and well written. He even praises Lee for noting the issues in a professional objective manner.

After Lee gives Chris the performance review, Chris, very upset, goes to Pat and makes accusations against Lee.

Pat then meets with Lee and criticizes Lee’s management style. He suggests that they all meet with HR to arbitrate between Lee and Chris! Pat openly criticizes Lee in front of Chris and the problems drag on.

Eventually Chris takes a position in another part of the organization. Pat then gives Lee a very low scoring performance review because of what happened and because Chris left.

Pat used Lee as a scapegoat when Chris kicked and screamed about the review. Pat gave Lee every indication of full backing when in truth it was conditional upon Chris’ reaction. In effect, Pat ambushed Lee with a pretense of full support.

Lee learned a lot from that event. He even remembered another moment that showed him that Pat was very averse to conflict.

Leading Leaders: The Backfire of the Ambush

  1. The ambush is a neon sign advertising the leader’s weakness of character.

    Everyone, even leaders, make mistakes. Yet leaders can recover from mistakes by taking ownership, explaining what they’ve learned, and what they will do to change going forward. Often this builds trust in the leader for its honesty, accountability, and human connection.

    Conversely, the sly nature of an ambush taints any apology the leader makes afterward. Disrespect hovers and affects all those it touches.

  2. The ambush crushes trust.

    High performance organizations need leaders who build and maintain trust. Trust is not necessarily built through lack of conflict. It is built through integrity and honesty while showing respect for the person.

    Managers who trust that their leader is authentic focus on results instead of looking over their shoulders to see if the leader is retreating. Broken trust lingers and effects the bottom line results for a very long time.

  3. The ambush reduces good managers to confused managers.

    No manager is perfect. Yet ambushing very capable, committed, hard working managers confuses their focus. There is no value in this. It suffocates talent instead of nurturing it. It impacts current and future organizational success.

  4. The ambush teaches a dangerous principle.

    It tells managers that their goal should be to avoid conflict at all cost. This is impossible. Pat told Lee that the review was objective and done well. When Chris got upset, Pat scapegoated Lee!

  5. The ambush punishes instead of teaches.

    There are still leaders who live by the maxim, if my direct reports’ staff come to me instead of going to them, those managers have failed. I hear this mostly from leaders who view their direct reports as buffers. Great leaders in high performing organizations don’t set up roadblocks for their personal comfort. They mentor their direct reports in leadership and people skills to improve the dynamics of the entire organization.

    Certainly if a leader sees a pattern where most staff are coming to complain about one manager, it may indicate a management style problem. Yet there is no way to stop any one employee from jumping past their manager to speak to a higher level. Labeling that as a manager’s failure is short-sided, premature, and quite risky.

  6. The ambush gives high performance managers reason to leave.

    High achieving managers have a low tolerance for misinformation, confusing messages, and bad surprises in their performance reviews. What makes them so valuable is their inner drive to contribute greatness to the organization and to succeed in their careers. They can handle and welcome honest feedback because it is the very fuel that keeps their chances for success alive.

    Yet, an ambush represents a betrayal that thwarts their success. Leaders who betray them with an ambush can trust that these high performers will eventually leave. Lose enough of them and results suffer.

Leaders, don’t abandon and ambush your direct reports. Spend time becoming very self-aware. What motivates you? What frightens you? How good are you as a mentor for your direct reports? How good are you at communicating clearly and giving honest feedback with respect? What is your philosophy about hierarchy, management, and staff interaction? How do you want people to communicate their disagreement with you?

Leading leaders requires two-way communication about the vision and how things will work. Make sure you communicate whether you will coach and mentor for high performance. Will you expect them to do the same? Will you hold a firm but fair line with employees who choose not to perform? Or will you crumble and ambush the managers into mistrust?

Replace the ambush with honesty, integrity, and accountability. Trust, morale, and results will soar!

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Related Post:
Leadership: Fairness is Not Neutrality

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Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

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4 Responses to “Leading Leaders: Remove The Backfire of Ambush | #LeadMorale”

  1. Liz Weber says:

    Run Lee! Run!
    Kate I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a coaching or training client ask: “So what do I do when my boss doesn’t back me up?” My typical response is: “Consider making a lateral move to find one who will.”

    There’s nothing more frustrating in my view than a “leader” who doesn’t have the courage or character to consistently support the needed, correct actions of their managers. And the leaders wonder why their managers are “ineffective”….

    Another great post Kate!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Liz,
      I chuckled immediately when I read your “Run Lee Run!”. It is shocking that leaders have positions when they are that unaware and weak.

      Your latest post, Are You Asking Enough of Your Managers also underscores that a leader’s integrity and communication are critical to org. success.

      Many thanks for your addition to this post.

  2. Mabel duffus says:

    This is becoming so common in today’s corporate world. Leaders like title but not the accountability , trust or responsibility,. I watch the front line staff employees ideas used in meetings with no credit or mere mention of the person whose idea they are using in the first place.

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