I thought of this example while driving to work one day.
Imagine that your boss had been promoted and a new guy has been transferred to your department to replace him. Within a few days, he managed to discover some mistakes of yours which you were aware of and had been taking steps to overcome. He comes up to you and questions “why is the situation like this?”. You explain to him and try to assure him that everything is under control. He seemed alright, but a few hours later you discovered that he had been asking around, and it doesn’t sound good.
How would you feel?
While the example was based on reality, I tweaked some minor parts in order to present a story which I could write about. If the new boss came in with a questioning attitude, people would get defensive. It’s human nature! Common thoughts include “He does not understand the difficulties in which we face when the mistake was made, yet he came in, full of air, judging on the work we do”. Another example could be “he just wants to save his own ass by drawing a clear line on whose responsibility it should be”.
Both ways do not paint a good picture for the new boss, and relations might be strained instead. Not a good way to build a first impression.
We have to realize that while we interpret the boss’s intention as hostile, the hostility is but our representation of reality; he might not have intended for you to feel this way. His intentions might be good.
Question is, if you were the new boss, how could you have conducted yourself different so that you seem more amicable and forgiving instead?
Humans hate conflict. We tend to move away or find a place to hide when our bosses shows the first signs of hostility. Hostility does not build high performing teams. On the other hand, cooperation, coupled with a willingness to help out, builds ties and camaraderie.
Hence it should be no surprise that the best way to approach your subordinate in the initial phase of team building is to avoid unnecessary conflict and build rapport. For example, “I recognize that we have committed an error in the past, but we should move on and rectify our mistake. Let’s find a way out together”.
Does the above make you feel better? I bet it does. Aside from recognizing that it is a common duty to work things out, the boss accepts responsibility of the mistake even when he wasn’t in charge originally. By accepting the mistake, there isn’t any line drawn between you who screwed up and I as the almighty boss. Moving on then becomes a team goal than an individual goal. It also reduces the tension and stress of the individual.
I am a firm believer of coaching and accepting that my subordinates makes mistakes. We must always remember the times when we are the subordinate and think, “What is it that I wouldn’t like if my boss did to me”. Lessen the distinction between you as the boss and him as the subordinate and morale might slowly creep back up!