Leaders and managers need to create ‘clear blue water’ in the workplace that will benefit themselves and also the people they manage and lead.

A difficult relationship

During the course of collecting research data for a number of reports, I discovered some common practices amongst senior managers and leaders who were struggling with their relationships with their teams. Many of them were operating in close proximity to the middle or junior managers who were directly reporting to them. They were aware of every action, every decision and, of course, every error. Often they would step in and ‘help’ with all good intentions, and they saw themselves as hands-on and involved. These people were also under constant time demands to complete their day-to-day tasks, as they were spending a considerable time engaged in unproductive and unnecessary effort.

The downside

There are some pretty obvious problems with this management model.

By stepping in to resolve issues, senior managers give the impression that their direct reports cannot cope. It doesn’t matter how gentle the approach is, it still undermines and erodes confidence.

The result? Disenchantment and ultimately a middle or junior manager who won’t even bother to try to resolve issues – they are likely to say that there is no point in trying as it will not be good enough.

This approach is an effective barrier to creativity and development.

The result? Stagnant skills levels within the management cohort, with the resultant drop in organisational effectiveness. Also a disinterest in advancement from non-managerial grades, as workers see frustrated and apathetic managers above them.

This is micromanagement, usually the domain of managers and leaders who are not as confident in their own ability to function. Micromanagement is seen as the best thing to do when you are concerned that by allowing people to get on with tasks, you may be unable to answer operational queries ‘from above’. We tend to micromanage for two distinct reasons: we don’t think our staff are capable of effective working on their own, or we don’t fully understand and suspect that others have greater ability than us.

The result? An operational culture that is defined by the senior manager’s own capabilities, instead of effectively utilising the strengths of the individuals within the team. In this scenario where there is very little room for independent thinking and decision making, the organisation will ultimately employ a management cohort filled with non-challenging, non-creative and uninspired individuals.

The solution

Create ‘clear blue water’ – allow middle and junior managers to get on with their jobs and to have confidence in their teams.

The solution is simple, but may be initially painful. Senior managers should create ‘clear blue water’ between themselves and their team – they should allow middle and junior managers to get on with their jobs and to have confidence in their teams. It really doesn’t matter how many hitches and glitches there were on the path to a successful outcome – and if anything does require senior intervention, the channel for it to be requested is open and easy to use. A by-product is that there should be more time available to engage with tasks that are part of the senior management role, with a discernible reduction in workplace-based stress.

It is always a bit daunting to jump into water, but it is so good when you are in there and you wonder why you didn’t get in earlier.

With thanks to Dr. Barrie Kennard for this guest blog.

Barrie’s vast experience of leadership and management development covers a number of areas from the delivery of leadership training in his early career, through to consultancy for senior leadership teams, advice and policy recommendations for awarding bodies, training providers, employers and Welsh Government. He has a special interest in leadership communication especially around the area of emotional intelligence.

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