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(Almost) Always Have Your Reports’ Backs

Leadership
Conflict solving
Underperformance
Feedback

27 November, 2018

Didier shares a learning experience about the dangers of being too protective of your reports.

Problem

I was working as a manager of an eight-person in an operational team. I learned that a team member had pushed code to production without any communication. Also, it had not been tested nor validated. Higher management completely blamed him due to his lack of communication. To my point of view, this was a mistake, and I let them know about it. I felt this issue reflected a failure of my management method. However, this led to a misunderstanding between us and my superiors. My feeling was to behave as a dad, standing up for his children. This was my mistake. It turns out I wasn't being fair, I was infantilizing people instead.

Actions taken

In this case, the issue was not the people but the processes. I tried to explain my perspective and convince my VP without any success. He was already in a bad mood. I eventually decided to rethink the processes, communicate transparently on this issue, and promote new things. I moved my report to another team to give him time to breathe and reflect on the situation. We also developed new and strong processes. Following that, we had a postmortem meeting with all stakeholders explaining the situation and showing new processes implementation timeline. Once this was done, it was no longer a stressful environment to him and he joined the team back.

Lessons learned

According to the idea of ideal leadership, an effective leader is a person who creates an inspiring vision of the future, motivates people to engage, manages delivery , communicates, delegates, recognizes achievements. and so on. A good leader makes people feel safe. At the beginning of my leadership experience, I was convinced I should perform like a father, a best friend for my people. I was wrong. I learned not to take people for children, because that infantilizes them. Height and distance must be maintained. I always think about how to handle interactions with people, sometimes we need to protect people who work for us from the people who manage us, sometimes not. The border is still thin around reports and leaders.


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