Q: People put up with abusive bosses because they fear for their jobs. The problem is, the system produces abusive behavior. How can we change the system?
A: Progressive organizations factor 360-degree feedback into decisions regarding promotion (or lack thereof). Until this practice is standard procedure, abusive bosses will continue to exist, and only those employees who are courageous and secure in their employability will cease being victims.
Q: I have been accused of the opposite behavior—of taking everything to heart. What are your thoughts?
A: Those who sidestep responsibility are the problem rather than the solution. But those who try to assume all the responsibility and fix things on their own limit their impact. It’s only by engaging others that lasting change can be made. Business is not a solitary pursuit.
Q: If your employees aren’t making mistakes, you’re in trouble; they’re either doing nothing or lying. But how do you protect yourself and your employees from a manager who equates mistakes with incompetence?
A: In R&D type efforts, label the work so it’s clear that the outcome of the effort is to determine feasibility. Build contingency and risk mitigation into your plans so that mistakes aren’t as visible upward. Finally, try to keep your boss focused on the ends by keeping him out of the details—either in the planning of the approach and timing or the review of the status.
Q: How can a manager build a culture in which people take responsibility not only for their own performance but for their group’s?
A: If you want people to take more responsibility, make sure they understand the organization’s goals, provide information that illustrates what is and is not working, clarify how work gets done so they know where to go and whom to talk to, push decision-making downward, and reward risk-taking and sharing.