Avoid Isolation As A New Leader
Authored by: Georgie Bishop, President Public Sector Consortium, www.public-sector.org
Former Director Workforce Development, US EPA
When you first arrive in a new organization stay as open and accessible as you possibly can particularly during the orientation phase (six months minimum). Your primary work as you learn the organization’s work and develop trusting relationships will be to observe, listen, and inquire. As a leader you never want to be dependent on a few people who control everything you see and read. In many organizations a few power brokers essentially run the organization and can easily isolate their bosses from any real contact with employees or a true understanding of the current reality. Be aware of staff who repeatedly volunteer for tasks particularly the tasks no one else wants to do. Make note of the people who seem to have excessive workloads or control.
Organizational power brokers often have a long history of accumulating responsibility and have a great deal of knowledge. Their knowledge and capacity to deliver often make it difficult not to continue the pattern of dependency. Over dependency on a few employees undermines your capacity to lead and has devastating effects on the performance of the workforce.
Describe the Ideal
If you do not have your own vision for the ideal workplace do some reading and thinking before you arrive. In general healthy workplaces function on the principle of shared power and diversity. Shared responsibility and balanced workloads will result in shared commitment to outcomes and more engagement by everyone. How you maximize the intellectual capital and the energy of your employees directly effects productivity, creativity and outcomes. Anyone in the workforce who creates over dependency on themselves through withholding knowledge inappropriately or taking on more and more work undermines the capacity of the entire workplace.
Lead System Change
When you recognize a workplace imbalance initiate a review of the individual’s workload. A conversation between the supervisor and the employee about how much work is on their plate may warrant a review of their responsibilities by you or by the personnel office (job audit). The review may result in your ability to create a new system of responsibilities and greater balance. As a leader never hesitate to share your philosophy of a healthy workplace describe your desire for shared power and shared responsibility. Coach your supervisors to use these principles when they work with their employees.
An example of what can happen when you focus on mitigating the behavior of a problem individual and not the system comes from a real life example. A large public organization had one support individual who had hundreds of emails a day crossing their desk and complete control of the Senior Executive’s life. After careful consideration and complaints from the workforce some of their duties were re-assigned into the workload of three other people. After some time the individual was re-assigned to another division. Within one year the individual’s new division found itself in the same predicament with the same individual. The tendency to accept assistance from someone who is competent and consistently volunteers often lead to the path of least resistance.
New technology makes the creation of systems to access diverse sources of information a much easier reality for all leaders. How you manage this flow of information to provide diverse perspectives and necessary information without becoming overwhelmed is a system design challenge for all leaders.