There were three of us on the conference call line; my direct report, another female colleague, for whom we are developing an e-learning program, and I. We were discussing the framework, the content and the training audience. My direct had already put together an outline and asked for feedback to ensure she was heading in the right direction. Our colleague, new to the organization, wasn’t able to answer our questions. Rather than be honest and tell us she wasn’t sure, she tried to answer vaguely to provide some kind of a response. It was clear to us she lacked clarity about the project. Then to cover this up, she praised the work we had already completed.
My direct, who worked on the project, appreciated this praise. I understand we all need to feel valued at work, but this was not a good use of my time. She listened raptly as our new colleague praised her for the “clean look” of the PowerPoint slides. I muted my phone and tried to listen to the friendly banter, hoping it would lead to some useful information, but it didn’t. After several minutes, I stepped in. I suggested she find the answers to our questions and get back to us. We would wait to hear from her before we continued to work on the project. I ended the call and moved on to my next meeting.
Later that night, as I reflected on my day, I wondered if I handled the situation properly. Was I too hard on the new hire? Did I offend her in any way? Should I have taken a more understanding approach? I wasn’t abusive, that I know, but I may have been unnecessarily abrupt.
The next day, I checked with my direct and asked for feedback – “Was I too hard on her?” She replied, well there’s always a good cop and a bad cop in situations like these. She was telling me, I was the bad cop! My goal as a leader is to be a servant leader, a term coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, in “The Servant as Leader.” The concept is simple, a servant leader is one who shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people perform and develop as highly as possible. That last part is most important to me. As a coach, I help others be successful their business careers.
If I were to do it over, I would ask her a couple of questions, rather than end the call. The first question would be: What is preventing you from getting clarity on this project? The second question is: How can we assist you in getting this clarity? We may not have been able to solve anything on the phone, but it certainly would have given us some insights and potentially helped us move the project forward. Instead, I shut the door on helping her, and that is not the kind of leader I am or want to be.
Two days later, I met her. She was apologetic for not knowing the answers and then reminded me she is only with the organization for three weeks. I could tell from her comments and demeanor that she isn’t getting the support she needs to be successful in her new role. We have plans to go to lunch next week. The servant leader in me wants to help her be successful. What type of leader are you?
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Doris Braun, Leadership Development and Executive Coach, helps women business leaders promote themselves, transition to new leadership positions and take on new career challenges. Follow her on www.LeadershipSolutionsforWomen.com and Twitter @dorisbraun.