“The 3 Sins of Management” was a “Please don’t commit them!” article I published within my Alaka‘i Managers’ Managing with Aloha Toolkit in the early days of my coaching career. It was easy to write, for an unfortunate reason — I saw one, or all of these sins practiced in every single workplace I visited, and I knew we had to banish them from a manager’s practice.
My short list of 3 has stood the test of time: I wouldn’t write it with any different culprits. I worked with a management team on the first sin just this past week, and I ask you to join our fight against its evil villain of avoidance, flushing it out of every one of its hiding places. Being wimpy about confronting our ills doesn’t suit us or serve us: We managers can do better, and be better.
Each of these sins is a heavy hitter, and it’s possible that each will cover a lot of ground once you assign them to your own workplace examples of occurrence: It takes a focused and committed manager to overcome them once and for all, but calling them out this way, and naming them as the sinful villains they are, is likely to be half the battle.
I also think there is one character trait all managers can groom, a trait I would call the all-inclusive cure of these 3 Sins, and I share it as the new addition to my article.
The 3 Sins of Management
In the coaching I do with workplace culture-building, I’ve found that there are three different pitfalls that constantly rear their ugly heads for struggling managers. I’ve come to call them the 3 Mortal Sins of Management in our Managing with Aloha lexicon. I want Alaka‘i Managers to consider them evil and mortal — they’re killers of workplace spirit.
The first sin has to do with tripping yourself up in basic good supervision. The villain here is avoidance.
The second sin has to do with the way we revere and dignify the truth, keeping it PONO. The sin is the lie.
The third sin is complacency. Will we allow our working environment to wither in mediocrity, or keep it fresh and dynamic?
Let’s talk about them one at a time.
Sin 1. Tacit Approval
As a manager, you give someone your “tacit approval” when you fail to take action on some transgression they know you are aware of. Inaction on a wrong, allowing it to exist and play out, approves that wrong, or gives it credibility it should not have. Confronting the staff involved, and following up when correction and disciplinary action are necessary, is critical within your role as Keeper of High Performance Expectations — for everyone, fair and square.
As unpleasant as it may be to deal with these things, eliminating any trace of tacit approval in the workplace is arguably the primary reason managers are needed: It’s one of the key reasons why self-directed work teams have not been able to exist totally on their own in most businesses. Managers are the ones who treat those playing foul tactfully but consistently, conducting themselves with distinction as they treat others with dignity and respect (HO‘OHANOHANO). They firmly, assuredly correct ills, and guide people toward the choices found within better behavior.
Great managers groom talent: They do not ignore the opportunities they have to do so.
Sometimes, that opportunity is a transgression – a coachable, teachable moment, wherein behavior can shift toward the better.
Managers must learn when it’s best to take care of staff issues individually versus collectively, and they must be the ones to discover all root causes, investigating them fully. Then they must, must, MUST take action and not look away. If you don’t deal with things as they happen, the message you silently give is that it’s okay as long as you don’t get caught, or that mediocrity is okay until it gets chronic. Then you end up doing crisis management because situations have festered and gotten far worse: A cancer has spread. At the very least, you allow the onset of apathy.
Sin 2. Lies of Omission
This is one of those coaching lessons you get a lot of aha! moments in when you are a parent as well as a manager. With both my children and my employees I took care to teach them that a lie not spoken aloud is still a lie, and it still hurts someone or something in some way.
I would much rather deal with a big ugly truth than a small white lie, and I did my very best to cultivate a safe atmosphere wherein my children and my employees would give it to me straight no matter how awful a situation may be. I want to know what I must deal with — or what we must deal with — as soon as possible. No matter what it is, it is always far easier to deal with something that is out in the open and exposed in all its ugliness. Lies are never totally hidden and tucked away: in some way they affect someone’s health and spirit. Living with lies will kill a person’s ability to completely share their own ALOHA with others.
The positive flip side of this is that knowledge — any knowledge — is empowering and transformational. I’ve come to think of knowledge as food; food for mind, heart and soul. Learning inspires us, and when we “come to know” something and we seek better solutions, we can give birth to creativity. At the very least, we create new energy.
Learn to recognize the half-truths which currently exist in your workplace. A very common example is the Annual Appraisal which is perfunctorily done, and skirts around a real issue with an employee’s performance instead of addressing it honestly, and detailing a plan of action in solving it.
Openly talk about lies of omission with your staff. Introduce the phrase as newly known vocabulary (same with tacit approval, for many do not use that phrase either) and inculcate it into the language of your company. Second, seize personal responsibility for creating a safe atmosphere where anyone can talk to you about anything without fear of repercussion. Third, lead by example, and admit when you’re wrong and need a better truth yourself. Apologize when you should.
Sin 3. Automatic Pilot
A car left on cruise control unchecked will ultimately run off the road or out of gas. Same thing happens to any process in a business that is left on automatic pilot: It will crash and burn, or lose steam.
We know that “Times change.” So why is it that we fail to accept the fact that our accompanying systems and processes, policies and procedures will have to change as well?
Great managers learn to love this question: “Tell me again – why is it that we do it this way?”
You can fill in these blanks with a whole myriad of systems and processes in your company:
Why is this paperwork so necessary when we __________ ?
Are we absolutely sure that this is the best solution for __________ ?
Have we ever tried to __________ when we do this?
How long have we been __________ this way?
When was the last time we put __________ back out to bid?
Why are we replacing __________ instead of reinventing __________ in the company?
Word association: red tape and bureaucracy for us, equals __________ ?
Why does it have to be this way?
It probably doesn’t. It probably shouldn’t. Create, innovate, change: just try something new and surprise yourself. Surprise everyone. Pull the plug and turn off the phony life support: Actively heal instead.
Tom Asacker refers to automatic pilot as “functional stupidity”…
It’s a new management theory (great name, huh?).
It says that the absence of critical thinking in organizations creates unity.
And this consensus mindset helps improve productivity.
Instead of questioning things, people focus intently on the task at hand.
We are a nation overflowing with “functionally stupid” organizations.
We’re on autopilot.
We enthusiastically believe in the actions we take every day.
Whether or not they’re improving people’s lives and adding distinctive value.
It’s a delusion. A happy trance.
And we need to be knocked out of it.
The Cure is Courage
If you get a tangible example in mind for each of these sins, I think you’ll agree: All 3 Sins can be often be characterized as taking the easy way out, or succumbing to that sneaky villain of avoidance. If you are a manager, they’re screw-ups.
The foil to wimpy or fearful behavior, avoidance, and often, laziness, is courage — so let’s define it more explicitly, as the bravery to push through our own hesitation and take better action.
All 3 Sins are triggered by hesitation, and we face a decision: Will we give in to that hesitation and stop, dwelling in some pocket of avoidance, or will we push through our hesitation, opting for a far better result? Thus, the Alaka‘i Manager must be willing to recognize that hesitation in themselves, and then ask themselves, “What’s holding me back?”
Name the culprit, call it out like you’re now doing with these sins, and solve it.