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Is leadership more than telling people what to do? Four Mistakes. Wow!

Is leadership more than telling people what to do? Absolutely! I was watching a fairlyLeaders Telling People What to Do - Undercover Boss - White Castle new reality television show the other night called "Undercover Boss" on CBS. Wow! Basically executives go undercover as new employees in their companies and get a whole new perspective on things such as customer service, motivation, management etc… Many times they are inspired by what they see and sometimes they become disturbed.

The particular episode I watched was that of White Castle owner and executive Dave Rife which originally aired 02/28/10. You can watch it by clicking here. White Castle is a well established family owned fast-food hamburger restaurant chain. As my wife and I were watching the episode we were touched by Dave's sensitivity and some of the ways he decided to make things better. That is until he made a series of management blunders with a particular supervisor.

Okay, here is what happened. Dave went undercover in the White Castles frozen food plant. Brenda, a recently appointed supervisor, immediately got Dave settled into his new job after chastising him a little bit for being late. Dave was working side by side with one of the employees at the plant by the name of Vicki. During one of their scheduled breaks Vicki informed Dave that morale was lower than it had been and that the supervisors were in the break room a lot and didn't help out and that people that were picking up the slack were getting tired of it. 

Now, fast forward to the end of the episode. Dave calls in both Brenda, the supervisor, and Vicki, her employee and reveals who he really is – an executive with White Castle. Brenda immediately goes into a defensive mode like any of us would in that situation. It was a complete surprise to her. Dave, the executive, lets them both know that his goal is to get them working as a team (Mistake #1). Then he puts Vicki on the spot and ask her what the ideal supervisor is like (Mistake #2). Brenda of course becomes defensive when Vicki states that the ideal supervisor is someone who helps out and doesn't stand at a desk or sit in the break room. Dave then tells them he is expecting them to have better teamwork (mistake #1 again) and that Brenda needs to listen to Vicki (Mistake #3) and that he will check back on them later (Mistake #4).

What I had just witnessed is not uncommon in the workplace. Managers do a lot of telling. But they must do more than just simply tell. Here are the four mistakes Dave made. I am going to address him directly.

Mistake #1 Dave, never call in the supervisor and one of the supervisors team's employees and tell them you want them to start working better as a team. They are part of the team, but not the whole team. And to call in a supervisor and one of her employees is not going to solve teamwork issues just by simply telling them they need to work better as a team. Teamwork issues start with the leader and then the whole team. Teamwork is built on trust, communication and clear and executable common goals and vision. Teamwork doesn't magically happen because you request it.

Mistake #2 Why in the world Dave would you ask an employee in front of her supervisor what the ideal supervisor is? And especially why would you do this without any warning to the supervisor. Now, I know this is television and most people were probably thinking, "now she's going to get what she deserves." But this is poor management. Do you really believe in that situation that a supervisor is really going to change? That supervisor will become defensive, not humble. And though Brenda might say I will try to do better, in her heart she is saying "that jerk," I'm going to make life miserable for her when we get back to the plant. You already knew the answer Dave, you just wanted this poor employee to tell her so you didn't have to. Or you wanted her to hear it from the "team." Both reasons are mistakes. Instead, Dave, you should have provided coaching in private.

Mistake #3 Is it ever proper to tell a supervisor in front of his or her employee to listen to them? Dave, there are some things you do as a leader and some you don't, this is clearly at the top of the list of don'ts. You just knocked Brenda down a couple of levels and gave Vicki more power. Do you really think that Brenda is going to listen to anything that Vicki says especially since have you just humiliated her in front one of her employees? The better option would have been, again, to discuss this with Brenda in private.  

Mistake #4 Don't just tell supervisors or employees you simply want them to change and that you will check back with them later to see whether this has happened. Instead provide the tools, resources, interest, expectations and encouragement. Brenda needs some training. She is a new supervisor and it was very evident that an involved new supervisor training program would have been helpful. We can't expect people to change a behavior if they don't have the proper tools and resources to do so. Second, show her that you are genuinely interested in helping her become better. Showing interest will motivate her. It was evident by your body language and facial expressions that you didn't really care about Brenda, it was all about Vicki. Third, provide clear expectations. Let Brenda know clearly what you expect her to do (e.g. go through training, create trust on her team). Once you have provided your expectations and given clear direction, then it is time to provide encouragement – be positive. Let Brenda know that you believe she can be a great supervisor and that you will do all you can to help her in that pursuit.

Dave, how would you have felt if the tables were turned? The reality is leaders do much more than just tell people what to do. 

What do you think? Please comment below.


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Mike Rogers