Thanks to Debbie Laskey, Michelle and Debbie discuss how the best leaders remove roadblocks.
To quote Matthew Kobach (@mkobach), “Twitter is a key that unlocks thousands of doors, some of which you never even knew existed.” As a member of the Twitterverse for nearly 13 years, I always enjoy meeting new people and learning from them. I recently connected with Michelle Gibbings from Melbourne, Australia, and invited her to appear here on my Blog in a Q&A format. Highlights of our conversation follow a brief introduction.
QUESTION: You wrote a book entitled, “Bad Boss, What to Do If You Work for One, Manage One or Are One.” According to the book’s description, “Regardless of your role – be it an employee, a boss or leader, the boss’s boss or a leader of leaders – this award-winning book encourages you to play your part. It challenges you to examine your role in the dynamic and to own what you CAN do to make relationships work.” What are the three most important take-aways from the book?
MICHELLE GIBBINGS: We’ve all worked for a bad boss and perhaps, at times, been a bad boss. Consequently, your approach to the situation depends on your role – be it employee, boss or boss’ boss. Whatever your role, the book encourages you to critically examine the context, challenge your perspective, and outline what you can do to shift the situation.
Firstly, you assess what is going on, your impact, and the potential cause. Next, you consider the options given the circumstances and your role in the relationship. After that, you implement your approach while living your values and ensuring you take care of your well-being. In the final phase, you reflect on your progress (or lack, thereof) and determine any next steps, especially if it’s not going according to plan.
QUESTION: Years ago, one of my bosses told me that I should “lower my expectations” regarding the work product completed by one of the employees I supervised. How would you have responded?
MICHELLE GIBBINGS: Context matters, so it’s never a simple answer. There are many variables to consider. I would want to understand your team member’s level of experience, capability to do the role, and aptitude to learn. Is their performance a competency or capability gap, or is it behavioral? How much time has been devoted to upskilling, and how long have they been in the role? It’s also essential to challenge yourself regarding the expectations you set on performance and outcomes based on the level of resourcing in the team, other priorities and workload pressures.
All of this doesn’t mean you set the bar low for your team, but it does mean you are realistic about what’s possible given the context in which the team members are working. If there’s a gap between your expectations and your boss’ expectations about performance, I would want to understand why. If they are downgrading their expectations, what’s driving that shift, and what does that mean for the team’s overall performance and objectives? So, I would start by getting curious and asking lots of questions.
QUESTION: What is the most memorable thing you’ve learned from a boss, and how has that lesson shaped your career?
MICHELLE GIBBINGS: I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some fantastic leaders throughout my career. One of the best bosses from early in my corporate career said to me one day: “Michelle, I get that you’re ambitious and that you want to do a good job. The work’s important, but no one will remember the work you did when you move on. The only thing they’ll remember is how you made them feel.”
Those comments shifted my focus. The more I connected with my team, the more I understood them and their needs, and vice versa. Our working relationship improved; we got more done as a team and were collectively more successful because I put them first. It was a reminder that being a great leader takes work, but above all else, it takes a desire to want to do better.
QUESTION: Which leaders (from history or business) inspire you, and why?
MICHELLE GIBBINGS: I am an avid history buff, so it’s challenging to narrow down to three because there is so much we learn from seeing how leaders of the past have confronted challenges and embraced opportunities. What I am often reminded of when I read biographies and autobiographies is the complexity of humans. Leaders are not one-dimensional, and some of the character traits that made them successful in a specific context also meant they were difficult to work for in a different context. On a practical level, the leaders who have most inspired me and most changed how I lead are the leaders I worked with during my career.
QUESTION: One of my favorite leadership quotes is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer on Twitter): “Leadership doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to block and tackle for others.” What does that message mean to you?
MICHELLE GIBBINGS: I often say, “If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you need to find another room.” My comment is about encouraging leaders to accept they don’t hold the licence on being right, and it’s essential to recognise the impact their positional power has on how they make decisions. While I get the intent behind the concept of ‘blocking or tackling’, I find the language problematic because it has undercurrents of an adversarial approach to relationship building. For me, the best leaders help their team members navigate organizational challenges and remove roadblocks. They play a crucial role in assisting their understanding of organizational power structures and help them determine the best approach to building relationships with challenging stakeholders.