How do I know that they are working? How do I measure performance? These are common questions that am hearing during webinars where managers and team leaders are involved. Every time I hear them, I smile. I smile because the tables have turned. A certain consultant told me the other day, “I have never conducted so many counselling sessions for managers like I have in this season”. I acknowledge that there are other issues of concern such as reduced revenue, unutilized office space and other facilities that are still part of our operational costs.
My concern however is that the team leaders seem more concerned about how to measure productivity and keep a tab on the employees. Someone in a certain online group answered them in one word “Trust”. What I liked about that answer is that it came from a young person in his mid-twenties, who works in an organization where one only goes to the office when he has to. He has been working from home even before covid-19 happened. He puts in on average 9 hours from 2am to 11am. His focus is productivity not activity. Comparing this with his previous job where he was expected to report at 8am and leave after 5pm is like comparing day and night.
What most team leaders do not realize is that they probably did not have any control in the first place. People follow you mainly for two reasons; Respect or Fear. Respect is earned and its earned through trust. If you have been leading through fear, then I bet you are on panic mode. The biggest lesson by now is that such leadership is not sustainable. If you heard that line theoretically now you are experiencing it practically because things have changed.
You cannot call their office line every five minutes to push for that report, you cannot stand over their back to demonstrate how you want the report done, you cannot call them to your office to threaten them for the petty mistake and you cannot shout at them loud enough through that zoom meeting. You are sending them threats and lots of work just to feed your ego. You want to feel like you have preoccupied them enough so that they do not get any free time. You want to show them that you are still in charge. They however can smile from their couches at home as you panic and sweat because you cannot control them. They can watch the phone ring or mute your chats because it’s their cell phone. They can log in and watch a movie or go to the market. They can take a day off without having to contact you to explain all the petty details. The tables have turned!
If you don’t realize anything else this season, realize that the only person you can control is you. The more you try to control another person the more you lose control of yourself. I was listening to a family show the other day and our own respected Kenyan sociologist Dr. Ken Ouko said “women are not necessarily submissive, they have just mastered how to play along, to get what they want and keep peace.” I laughed it off. Thinking of it now, I think he had a point. If you think you were in control all along, ask yourself, was I really in control or were they playing along, to get what they want and to keep peace? Dr. Ouko’s statement was in line with spouses or children who live in abusive relationships whether physically or emotionally then children revolt and retaliate once they mature or the spouse walks away after years of what seemed like a good relationship. In short the tables turn.
The same concept would apply in leadership at work. As the boss you think you are in control because they follow what you say. The test however comes when your subordinates have a chance to revolt, when they have the power. Covid-19 has given them the power. If you are feeling out of control, it’s because you thought you were always in control. In reality you weren’t. It’s the situation that was favoring you. Now that it is not in your favor, you need to ask yourself, how do I hand over that control safely. Hence the word Trust. Earn it and give it.
Every time I hear a manager say, “they cannot work if am not there, people do not like working, I think this team is lazy”. The red alert in my head says ‘that’s exactly who you are.’ We judge people from our own lens. If you cannot trust yourself to work without being pushed you think everyone else has to be pushed and managed. That’s why we have hang on to outdated ideas like working from 8am to 5 pm which probably serves 40% of our staff. Covid-19 is our mover and shaker for this season. It has made us question all that we considered to be normal. People who comfortably work at night can finally do it. People who can work without supervision can finally prove it and whether we need supervisors and managers who only monitor production is a good question to ask ourselves right now. Not to mention all that office space and parking lots.
I however do not blame the managers on this, I blame our mentors and their mentors if not the school system. In the words of my corporate governance lecturer they are Unconsciously Incompetent. In a lay man’s language, they do not know that they do not know. They are educated but ignorant. Worse still they could be prisoners of positions led by ego and lacking in self-awareness. The major lesson you get once you become a team leader is how to manage. Unfortunately, we do not need managers or bosses only right now.
Allow me to first define management, it involves; Planning, organizing, staffing, coordinating and controlling. Does this sound familiar? It’s old school management before leadership happened. When employees were said to be lazy and not intelligent. We now have a generation of brilliant minds. Minds that can innovate and implement ideas without anybody’s supervision as long as they are motivated and inspired enough. That’s where the shift comes in.
What we need more of now is leadership. Leadership involves influencing, motivating, inspiring, creating and mentoring. How sane you will be as a team leader in this season depends on how well you integrated management with leadership before covid-19 happened. The challenge with leadership is that it starts with you, it holds you accountable for your actions and forces you to look within before you look outside. In short you judge yourself first before judging your team.
If you do not learn anything from this season as a team leader note that control is an illusion. When the tables turn trust is all that counts, but trust is built over time. If you did not earn it, you have a task post covid-19, practice more leadership to complement management. Then you can sleep soundly at night knowing your team has your back as much as you have theirs.
When you try to control everything, you enjoy nothing and a leader with influence does not rely on power to motivate.