In working with RoundPegg clients, I’ve been regularly exposed to the “values gap” between managers and their direct reports. This gap, whether narrow or wide, is a valuable contrast between a manager’s leadership style and the individual preferences of his or her employees.
So, what happens when managers’ values are at odds with those of their direct reports?
Mind the Gap
As a manager, your core values are necessary – even if only to level set expectations. Do you expect transparency? Input? A willingness to adapt? Well, your employees better, at the very least, understand that that is what you expect from them.
Arguably most critical is that managers understand how their people think and achieve, what inspires them and makes them tick. Make no mistake, there is truth behind the cliché that “everyone is different.” The greater the flexibility that you can display as a manager, while still holding true to your own values, the healthier your working relationship with your direct reports will be.
If you’re not aligning objectives with values, processes with people, then you’re up $#%! creek without a paddle (another cliché).
Plug in. Identify what is important to the folks that you manage. Spend time considering their strengths, and evaluating their weaknesses. When and for what projects can you rely on them for? How can they best contribute? It could be your very own managerial blind spot that they are able to readily complement.
…But you won’t ever know that unless you take the time to understand them.
It’s time to stop being willfully ignorant, and it’s time to bridge the gap.
We now understand the importance of managing through core values, but how exactly do you identify those values in the first place?
We can all agree that an individual’s core values are pretty well-established by the time he or she reaches the working world, but consider this – while you might know that your strengths are best leveraged in an individual (rather than team) capacity, your manager might not. There is a bit of reciprocal ownership here. How much responsibility falls on your manager to identify this, and are you at all responsible for communicating this?
Brace yourself, there’s a balance.
As a manager, don’t wander willfully blind – team efficiency comes back to aligning objectives with values, processes with people.
As a direct report, don’t be blindly willful – scientific research proves that you will exhaust yourself working in an environment in which you do not fit. Yeah science!
Finding Your Fit
Finding your stride as a leader, and finding your fit as a contributor all comes back to the information you have deliberately made available. Select the medium (e.g., email, survey, one-on-one conversation) that is most authentic to your relationship with your direct report, and strongly consider asking them some form or flavor of the questions below. Be certain to emphasize that there is no right or wrong answer, so long as their answer is truthful.
- How do you make decisions?
- How do you best communicate?
- What energizes you at work? What exhausts you at work?
- When and in what environment are your strengths best leveraged?
- Knowing that you will unlikely retire here, what does your next job look like?
You can probably see the advantage of having this information as a manager. With this insight, you can tap into the potential of each individual employee and structure the work around the combined strengths of your team. When you align processes with people, you build an environment that is conducive to the people in it.
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The insights gained through the exercise above are only valuable if they are effectively leveraged. Stick around. There’s still time for you to become a better manager.
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