Being Authentic: An Anecdote
“Let’s just try to get our shit done this week.” The words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop them. Wow! I had done so well recently. Positive attitude. Positive words. Positive motivation. The past few weeks had been all about giving people a target to hit and encouraging them to map their strategies and set their pace to reach goals.
The result? Yeah. Not spectacular but I probably wouldn’t have said anything if their attitudes had been contrite. Half of the team was mad because they had picked up the slack and the other half were planning to take another breakfast break. Queue the screeching breaks.
I started our weekly meeting by shutting the door 3 minutes after it had started. Of course, only a third of the staff was there. The others sauntered in later. I reminded everyone to be on time in the future. And then I reminded everyone to stay on top of their projects. And then I reminded people to communicate more especially when they are falling behind on their projects. And then the hammer dropped.
“If your work is falling behind, I expect you to either finish it or let me know you need help. I don’t expect you to take another breakfast break or find you chatting in someone else’s cube – unless you are asking for help. Let’s just try to get our shit done this week.”
What followed surprised me.
One person stuck their head in the office and said, “Thanks. It was making me mad because (insert name) was slacking and no one seemed to notice.”
Another person stopped by to ask how they could shift some work off of their plate.
“Wait,” I said. “Why are you doing this? This isn’t your project to work.” She confided that she offered to help earlier in the month and felt stuck with the work. Easy fix. After the meeting, I told the responsible employee that it was his work to do and not hers. He said he didn’t have the right system access.
“Then get the right access by the end of the week,” I suggested.
Their supervisor walked in and closed the door toward the end of the day. Right before she walked out, she said, “They need you to be more authentic. They need to see that you know what is going on and that you have boundaries.” She hesitated before continuing. “When you are too positive, they tend to take advantage of you.” That was counterintuitive but great feedback!
Our organization wants us to be positive and encourage everyone to reach their potential. That isn’t my first language. I have an internal locus of control, am motivated by hard work, and de-motivated by cheerleader “rah-rah” tactics. But, for the sake of the organization’s human resources objectives, I am more uplifting. I guess I either took it too far or my staff is more like me than I thought.
There are times when our internal filters cause more problems than just telling it like it is. The result was that this week was productive and the work was evenly distributed. We still have work to clear up bad habits but the consensus is that authentic behaviors help set up healthier boundaries.
I will never been truly authentic with my team. My internal dialog is way too direct and could easily crush their spirits. But a little more authenticity is positive.