Managers, how open are you to feedback?

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Dear Joan:
Recently, I read your article in the paper about swearing in the workplace. Not being an avid swearer myself, I do occasionally find myself letting out one now and again when something isn't working properly and I'm under the gun. This is not very often, however. I felt your article was noteworthy and I will try to mutter other terms, under those situations, in the future.
 

Others in my company, managers included, tend to color their language more often with expletives, and some verbiage that I personally find embarrassing. I have come to terms that being a female in a male dominated field, I'll have to live with some of that.

 

I thought that your article had a lot of good points, especially about losing customers, so I decided to cut it out and post it outside of my cubicle. I anticipated either no comments or at best, maybe even a tiny bit of improvement. I did not anticipate that the situation would get worse!

 

When my boss walked by and read the article, he was furious, and asked if I had put that up because he got mad last week. I said, no, that I thought the article was interesting. He continued on, and I said I thought he was taking it too personally. (There are many other managers and co- workers who swear as much or more than he does.)

Now I am being singled out every time they want to say something. My boss is even going so far as to say, "Good morning Susan. Oh, may I call you that?" This is getting ridiculous.

 

Any suggestions? I don't think approaching him about it is going to help either. How about next week's article, "I never thought posting an article would make things even worse?"

 

Answer:
You're not alone. Another person wrote in some time ago and said...

 

Dear Joan:
I greatly enjoyed your column "When Managers Don't Manage, Employees Suffer." I work for a small business that has management problems. I thought it was worth sharing with my co- workers. The majority of them thought the same as I did, but management thought it was "childish" of me to share your column.

 

I posted a copy next to the punch-clock at my place of employment. It was removed and burned in front of all the employees. Yes, burned! Of course, this was done after I was gone for the day. Who do you feel was being childish?

 

Answer:
These are sad letters. Not because someone disagrees with my viewpoint, but because some managers are so threatened and defensive about their behavior that they lash out when employees dare to question it. Such strong reactions suggest a much deeper leadership problem.

 

Obviously, these managers were embarrassed and felt criticized in front of their peers and other employees. These managers felt as if they were being attacked publicly. I suspect these managers already knew that their actions needed improvement or they wouldn't feel singled out.

 

In the case of the manager who burned the column, perhaps the employee would have gotten further if he had approached his manager privately on specific issues that were troubling him. However, if this incident is any indication, I suspect that the employee has probably approached his boss and been 'burned" in the past, which is why he tried a more anonymous approach.

 

If you were one of these managers, wouldn't your first thought be "Why did my employee feel this message needed to be sent?" Wouldn't your second thought be, "What should I do to change things?" In both cases, I suspect every employee has gotten the message loud and clear, "Never, ever, speak out on anything. Tiptoe around the boss's ego and just tell him what he wants to hear, or you, too, will be singled out and punished."

 

In the second case, a manager who would burn an article shows such a profound lack of understanding about why the article was posted in the first place, it's hard to imagine anyone working there for long under such oppressive conditions. With competition for employees heating up, it's going to be tough for these businesses to hang on to their employees. Would you stick around when you could be treated so much better right down the street?

 

The good news is that these situations are overshadowed by hundreds of letters I receive from people who bring these articles (and others) to their staff meetings and talk about them as tools to improve their workplaces. They may not always agree, but that's the whole idea-to spark a good, open discussion.

 

The message to all managers is this: if you are open to feedback, ideas and even criticism, you are leading by example and creating a healthy, productive environment where people will want to do their best.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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