When a Boss Should Step Down and When an Employee Should Coach Up

People often ask me questions about workplace accountability. I figure if one person asks, more people are wondering, so I’ll be answering the questions on my blog so everyone can benefit.

This time I’ll be answering two questions:

Question: Your recent blog about Bobby the Idiot caught my eye. I completely agree with the leadership style you highlight, especially when I sit on the other side of the table. When I have stepped up to lead, it was too easy to fall into the same habit as Sally. Quite often I found that people would attempt to derail the agenda of a meeting so that they could take control of the meeting I had planned….so my control tendencies begin to take over in order to move the group along.  What do you suggest on ways to enhance and maintain authority if this occurs?

Answer: This is one that I hear often from clients who are managing partners, CEOs and other leaders. Here is what I tell them:

If you’re not happy with the way your meetings are going, you need to clearly communicate what you want to see instead. How do you want you and your team to work together within your meetings?

Running a good meeting doesn’t mean jumping in and asserting your control or authority during the meeting (control and leadership don’t mix very well); it’s about using your authority to design a productive meeting before it starts.

So schedule another meeting with your team, only at this meeting the primary agenda item is to design an upfront agreement about how you will conduct your meetings. What boundaries do you want to put into place, e.g., what will you do if someone is storytelling – going on and on and on? What are the other meeting ground rules that are important for your team?

Once you take this important step, it’ll be smooth sailing after that – I promise!

Question: How can employees hold their companies accountable for their environmental impact?

Answer: This is another great question, and it relates to something we refer to as “coaching up.” Normally, the leader is in the role of coach and the direct report is in the role of coachee, with the coach holding the coachee accountable for their actions and results. But in “coaching up,” it’s the employees who want to hold the employer accountable by giving feedback and speaking up about what’s important to them. – in this case, environmental impact.

Coaching up involves risk, preparation and directness.

It is risky to take on this reverse role with someone who has a position of authority over you. If you don’t use the right approach – elegant, respectful and direct  – it could affect your standing in the organization or even your job security. But as with any risk, the payoff could be enormous.

The way you present your case will be crucial, so your preparation must be impeccable. This includes preparing for how your employer will respond and how you will handle that. Role-play this with a co-worker, friend, spouse or whoever. Anticipate and play out every possibility you can think of.

And for everything you haven’t prepared for, the best response is “I’ll get back to you.” Then you can go away and prepare for that.

As I already mentioned, it’s important to be elegant, respectful and direct when you approach your organization’s leaders with feedback about their accountability. You can’t wimp out. You have to make your point in a direct way that is still very professional.

Continuing this polite and respectful approach, but without trying to force any particular solution (your solution), ask the leader about his or her next steps. Recap what’s been discussed and make a plan to follow up.

The more you do this, the less risky it will feel. And in my experience, most of the risk is perceived rather than real. It’s far worse in our imagination that how it actually plays out in real life.

Did you try it? Let me know how it went! And if you have your own question about workplace accountability, you can ask it here.