Are You Mothering Your Team?

Are You Mothering Your Team?

Are You Mothering Your Team?

By Mark Wager

This past week I’ve had to address the same scenario with two very different leaders. They are both highly regarded by their organisations, both very smart and have a lot of technical knowledge and both have recently taken over teams and while the industries they work in are very different they share the same problem, which is, they don’t feel like a Leader to their team they feel more like their Mother, constantly reminding them, constantly chasing them up and tidying up after them both in terms of poor work but also just tidiness around the office. The leaders felt very frustrated and tired with the situation and asked me to help. If this scenario sounds familiar then read on as I will share with you the solution to this problem.

This problems occurs when you have a Leader that cares a lot about the team but hasn’t been given the techniques to transition from a team member role into a Leadership role.  When you are a member of the team you are generally judged by what you do as an individual yet when you become a Leader you are judged by what other people do and this is where the challenge starts.

Not everyone approaches work the same way that you do. Some people have standards which are set by themselves, no matter where they work they will maintain a certain level of professionalism yet many people set their standards of behaviour based on what is allowed. If no one tells them they are doing something wrong then for them it means that what they are doing is acceptable, for them silence is the same as approval. In these circumstance if you don’t reinforce personal accountability then you find yourself in a situation like the Leaders I met this week where they have stopped leading and started mothering.

It’s all about expectations 

While acting like a mother is a very commendable thing to do, in the workplace it can encourage employees to act like children, not taking responsibility for their work and not adding as much value as they could. I’ve always found that when you treat people in a certain way it encourages people to act in that way so if your actions convey low expectations then you are likely to get a low performance in return yet if you communicate with high expectations then most people and I stress most people, not all will rise to meet those expectations.

This last weekend when the All Blacks played Argentina, it was an inexperienced side with five uncapped players in the match-day squad. With around twenty minutes to go the All Blacks were struggling without scoring a single point in the second half while Argentina had the bulk of possession and despite the All Blacks having a four point lead the pressure was on. It is at this time that the All Blacks usually turn to the bench when experienced players would enter the game to close out the victory yet this time the bench had inexperienced untested players so what they did was what the All Blacks usually do? They sent in the players and they held on and won the game. What happened is that the players were expected to lift their performance to the expectations demanded by the All Blacks rather than have the All Blacks lower their expectations to those of the players. The question is what expectations are you setting for your team. 

When you act like the teams mother, chasing them up, reminding them, ask yourself what expectations are you setting, what does your team feel about your opinion of them? Let me tell you it’s low, they feel like you don’t trust or believe in them which encourages poor results and because you are getting poor results that makes you feel you have no option but to act the way you do therefore you end up being trapped in a self-fulling prophecy with no end in sight, however there is a solution.

Change the story 

In order to change the story you need to change the question so the first thing you need to do is to put the responsibility back onto the team, instead of chasing them, make them responsible for updating you. Before any deadlines ensure that they understand they need to update you prior in order to let you know the current state of progress and make it clear that if for any reason they feel they will miss the deadlines it’s their responsibility to raise this to you. 

Never ask “do you understand?”

The second thing you need to do is to confirm that people understand what is required, and this means you need to stop asking “do you understand?” Or “are you ok with this?” When people fail with a task or miss a deadline it’s rare that it’s intention usually they thought they understood yet in hindsight they realise they didn’t. In order to avoid this when delegating or discussing a task you need a ask a question in which the answer provides you with full confidence that the task will be achieved and the answer is never a simple yes or no, it has to be a demonstration of knowledge. Just by way of example instead of asking are you going to complete a report by Friday which invites a yes or no answer instead ask something like “How are you going to manage your workload so that you meet Friday’s deadline?’ If the answer is I don’t know then you know immediately the person is going to fail so you can then Coach the individual before the task rather than wait until after they fail yet if the answer demonstrates a high level of competency then you know you can trust them to do their job.

It’s often said that Leaders need to care for their teams and that is completely correct but the best way for caring for someone is not by control but by freedom. Leaders don’t carry people instead they provide people with the autonomy to reach a higher level of performance and if they should fail then the Leader is there to catch-up and put them back on their feet to try again. 

“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.” - John Buchan, former Governor general of Canada 

Posted: Monday 29 July 2019


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