» Managers as Enablers

‘Go Easy On Him’

Hardlines means making hard decisions and taking risks. As leaders and coaches, we have to act with courage and honesty, even at the risk of encroaching on some established communication patterns, if those patterns are dysfunctional.

I once worked with a client whose manager was having some difficulties with him. I tried to contact this manager to get some more information, but it took her months to respond to my calls and emails. When she finally did speak to me, she cushioned her comments by remarking, “He’s a nice guy. Go easy on him. Don’t share everything I’m telling you with him.” When I asked her why she thought it necessary to ‘go easy on him,’ she claimed a business emergency and cut our phone call short.

When I met with my client, he said he wanted the truth. After I shared the manager’s comments, he seemed bewildered by some of her perceptions. He planned to communicate with her directly about them. Apparently, this was the first time he had received honest, clear-cut, specific feedback from his manager.

I’m glad I didn’t ‘go easy on him.’ To do so would have compromised my integrity with this client, and it would have perpetuated the practice of wriggling around issues, which was apparently part of the communication pattern between him and his manager.

The point? It’s foolhardy to try to hide facts from people if you want them to change. This manager genuinely liked her subordinate, and she never got into specific performance issues with him because she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. And he never pushed for those specifics.

Perhaps you’ve experienced that compassionate reluctance to provide honest feedback to one of your reports. However, to fail to provide it does a major disservice to both of you. You can provide that feedback without being demeaning or cruel. How? Address the situation with honest inquiry: “This is what I see happening here. What do you see? What do you think?” Balance inquiry with advocacy of your point, and give some specific examples of the issues in question.

And maybe you’ll learn something from the exchange. You see the situation from your point of view, and you may discover something new through this dialogue. Convey your honest regard for the individual, and you can both emerge enlightened. It’s a win-win!