Boss’s Pet

I was coming to the close of a multi-session leadership development program for managers.  The span of experience in the room was a challenge:  some participants had never had any management training before; some told me that it was a refresher but based on the questions they asked it seemed that many of the concepts were completely new to them.; and one person appeared to be at a pretty senior level and seemed familiar with a great deal of the material.  It’s hard to know what training participants take away and apply back on the job and often their managers don’t have performance management follow-up discussions to discover and support behavior change after the training is over.

I asked each participant to review their initial objective and tie it back to back-on-the-job application, I thought that the most sophisticated and senior person in the room would report that while interesting, the program hadn’t been all that useful.

But I often learn things in training too!

The senior level participant told the group that the coaching module was something he easily identified with because he does it all the time. In fact, he noted that with one of his employees, it came to him so naturally that it was sometimes unclear when conversation stopped and coaching began. He was able to identify both formal and informal coaching situations with this employee. And he added “and I realized that I don’t actually coach my other employees.”

I was delighted.

OK – I was NOT delighted that he had confessed to only really coaching one of his employees. But I was delighted to see that he had come to the realization that he coached the employee with whom coaching came easily and naturally. His other employees didn’t get coached. And now with a model that he could use as a template, it would allow him to proactively coach all of his employees. In fact, it was highly likely that the other employees might need coaching more.

Playing favorites is not something most managers can easily admit to doing. It’s like a parent confessing that they have a favorite child. But connecting easily with some can be to the determent of others.  And organizationally, it can have a negative impact on your firm’s performance.

It can be pretty demotivating when your boss treats other employees better than you simply because they either are better at performing their jobs, or they connect better with them interpersonally. While it’s easy for a boss to have a trusted go-to person, there should be a clear line between trusting someone and showing favoritism. A good leader learns to build trust with everyone. And if it is not something that comes as easily with some employees as it does with other, a proactive coaching strategy with all employees is a good way for a manager to develop a better relationship with every employee they manage.

I was impressed to hear this manager recognize the goal and be able to identify where  he fell short. It was even more impressive for him to do this in training with his co-workers.

This manager’s key take-away from the program was that as the boss, he  should work to treat everyone fairly, recognizing and appreciating both the good work of all employees as well as the coaching needs for all employees. His heightened awareness of guarding against partiality was a sound learning for all of the managers in the room.  An employees’ productivity can depend on the way their manager treats them. Recognizing employees for their unique potential is something every manager could be more attentive to, and even if the manager is unaware, their employees often are very aware when the boss plays favorites.

It was a surprising and powerful learning not just for him, for him to share with the group. The other participants discovered that seasoned managers in their firm continue to learn ways to improve their ability to manage.

And I learned (again) that not everyone knows everything, including me! Sometimes people really do come to training programs to fine turn their skills and pick up one of two things that will help them improve their effectiveness.

And those one or two things add up to professional empowerment. 

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