Recently in my coaching sessions with several government managers, I found a reluctance to engage in conversations that would open up and potentially deal with sensitive, difficult issues. This is a common problem I see with managers and is part of learning how to effectively manage up.
Part of the fear of having these conversations is that to do so could present a "career limiting move." Wanting to please your boss and not make waves can lead to unintended consequences such as blowups among staff, decreased morale and other forms of dysfunction that lead to inefficiency and disengagement among staff. The challenge for managers is to be able to engage in powerful conversations that address issues senior management needs to hear about without the fear of retribution or creating an impression that you can't handle the job. The failure to have these conversations abdicates your reponsibility as a leader and effective manager. As Sandor Kovacs said," Anything that you are unwilling to communicate creates waste in an organization."
The coaching issue, as I see it, is to help managers gain skill in being able to hold powerful conversations, and by doing so, build a trusting relationship with senior managers and direct reports that creates tighter alignment around shared goals and addresses things that get in the way of effective execution.
Suzi Pomerantz, a well known executive coaching in the Washington DC area, has some useful ideas around how to hold powerful conversations, even to design pre-conversations leading up to a difficult conversation. In her article, "Powerful Conversations Generate Powerful Results," she discusses how powerful conversations can lead to extraordinary results, how to create dialogue and understand conversation intentions and their impact.
So what are conversations you are avoiding that could create impact and improved results in your organization? What fears do you have that need to be addressed in order for you to engage in critical conversations necessary in your role as a leader?