Demanding Down vs. Defending Up!
“The real power of great leaders in building great teams”
By Nathan Jamail
I was on the phone with a client the other day and he starts off with saying “I am going to meet with my boss, the VP, and let him know that, ‘we can not succeed with only having two managers and that I am willing to put my job on the line for this demand’- we need it for our success and the mangers’ success.”
Let me give you some quick back ground. My client is the Director of small medical centers and has 2 managers running all 7 locations. He used to have three managers, but one manager left and the President of the company has given the direction that due to current results, they are not going to back-fill the open position and they will need to find a way to do it with two managers. This falls on the heels of a conversation my client had with his boss just two weeks earlier about how he needs to get out of the role of being one of his managers and start doing more of his Director responsibilities. I would assume many of you can relate to this issue from your own personal experience.
Back to the story- so after listening to my client’s terrible idea of telling his boss he can’t do his job with the tools he has, I told him, “I wouldn’t recommend this route. If I was your boss and you told me this, I would be looking to replace you”. He said, “why would you say that”?, I said, “You haven’t even tried to make it work with the two managers, you haven’t even put a plan in place or failed. You have done nothing, but allow your fear of what you think will happen determine your actions. You have spent all your time telling me (and everyone) why it is going to fail before you have started anything”.
My client was doing exactly what so many leaders in business today want to do and what they think their job is – ‘defending their team’. Informing those above them that their team members are doing their best and are all over worked, etc. But this is the exact opposite of how to make their team more successful. They must flip their mindset and their efforts. They must stop defending their team with the assumption that the team can’t handle more work or more problems, rather we must “demand” the team members step it up and overcome these obstacles- focusing on the HOW it will get done. A leader should let the team members know they are capable of doing more and being even better than they currently are. When a leader defends their team- they are are telling the team members and those that they report to- that their team is weak and incapable or unwilling to do more. But when they demand their team do more and be more- they are telling them they are strong, and in fact they are telling them that they are stronger than they even know!
I told my client, “You need to stop seeing your team as a group that is overworked, taken advantage or not appreciated. Stop seeing your team as group of people that need your protection from the bosses or companies. Start seeing your team as group of people that thrive on having a purpose and the more they are challenged, the more they are pushed, the more they achieve and surprise themselves and those they serve”. Like many leaders that have a boss as well as followers, they are are the wrong side of perception many times which in turn limits their success and their team’s success.
I have heard this type of scenario three times over the past 2 weeks. This client’s issue was based on headcount. I had another client, that had a similar issue based on implementing a CRM tool. The leadership was afraid by making the employees use the tool for fear they may quit or be less successful. This is not a tool or employee issue, rather this is a leadership issue based on defending up instead of demanding down. The company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this tool to help the employees, the company and the clients, so we must demand those we coach to maximize their tools and look for the HOW. Another client was struggling with accountability based on the fear that those they manage would quit. I asked this client, “are your expectations unethical, cause physical pain, or unrealistic”?, she said “no!”, I then asked, “are they for the employees to more successful, help the company achieves their goal and better for the client?”, She said “yes!”, then I instructed her to share the reason and value of the expectation and demand they achieve it- if the employees decide they are not a good fit because of it- then that is the path they choose to take.
Good people are hard to find, but that does not justify bad leadership decisions.
My original client is not a weak manager- in fact he is a very strong manager- but like most strong managers in business, he is aware that he can always learn and find better ways to lead his team to greatness. Managers defend up because they feel like it is the nice and noble thing to do. ‘Protect their people!’ The truth is, it is not nice, rather it is harmful because it enables people to stay comfortable and become complacent, it justifies one’s limitations. There is a reason that great leaders are hard to find- not because there are not great people or passionate people- it is because no one is demanding they learn and change the way they lead, coach and serve. Be the leaders that demands the most from their team and delivers the most to those they follow. Be the difference!