I read a great blog post by Linda Hill and Ken Lineback in Harvard Business Review called “In Pursuit of a Better Boss”. I liked their emphasis on accountability. In my experience, many “bad bosses” are parties to a dysfunctional relationship; and one that can be fixed if both sides are willing to work at it.
It won’t surprise anyone that good communication is the foundation of a mutually rewarding and productive relationship at work. When we trust each other we can disagree without emotion, and be challenged without getting defensive. Getting all the best ideas out on the table assures the best decisions.
One of the bosses I particularly enjoyed working for at eBay, Mike Bringuel, once said, “Smart people should disagree”. He wouldn’t let his team sidestep disagreements to maintain harmony. After a brief adjustment period, we got used to it and became a much more productive group.
The trend toward more candor at work may sound counter-intuitive in today’s hyper-litigious workplace, but it’s not. The better we get at expressing ourselves in ways that don’t cause problems, the better off our companies will be.
Lots of people are afraid to disagree with their boss or other executives! I hear stories all the time from CEOs who have built teams of yes-people. They complain about not getting honest feedback. Hill and Lineback say that both sides have a responsibility to fix it.
I couldn’t agree more. In work relationships where the stakes are high, there’s a hierarchy and pressure to perform, people can become tentative. What they need to do is learn to speak up appropriately. Bosses need to prove that they can take it by not attacking subordinates who challenge them. It takes time but the payoff is huge.