If you’ve seen Office Space, then you’re familiar with Bill Lumbergh, the smarmy, overbearing manager and his passive-aggressive approach to assigning tasks (“Yeeeeaaaaahhhh…I’m going to need you to go ahead and come in tomorrow.”). His managerial tactics are nauseating at best, and destructive at worst. Aside from getting us to laugh, this character serves as an excellent cautionary tale for leaders. However, the moral of that tale is not what you might think.
Sure, Lumbergh was the ultimate example of the self-serving micro-manager and we’re all well advised to avoid those traits; but who hasn’t already heard that advice? Simply saying, don’t be a micro-manager is about as helpful as the motivational poster hanging above my desk, (and equally stale.)
More fundamental, and the thing that truly ailed this anti-hero was the lack of self-awareness. In other words, Lumbergh didn’t realize he was being a “Lumbergh.” Which begs the question: Are You Self-Aware?
Yeeeaaaahhhh…I’m going to need to go ahead and say, no.
OK – so it’s unlikely you are the extreme caricature that is Lumbergh, (suspenders anyone?), but the lack of self-awareness that he suffered from is arguably the most common challenge facing our leaders in the modern workplace. Why? Because, by all accounts, high-performing leaders are flexible, they are smart and they are entirely capable of improving their weaknesses while leveraging their strengths. The problem is, most leaders don’t know what those are; they don’t know what should be improved and what should be leveraged. They don’t see in themselves what others see daily, and are likely talking about at the water cooler.
We’d all like to think that our direct reports, peers and managers would voluntarily offer up open and candid feedback. This sounds great in theory, but in reality, candid feedback and the valuable awareness that comes with it simply doesn’t happen by itself.
Hearing is the Hardest Part
The good news is that there are several sound methods for gathering valid feedback, 360 assessments being the most common. In fact, once you decide to do it correctly, getting the feedback is actually fairly easy. Truly hearing that feedback? Not so much. I like to think of it this way: Receiving feedback is like standing in front of a mirror and realizing you need to shed some pounds. Truly hearing that feedback is going for a run. Three times a week. Every week. Forever.
Becoming self-aware and then taking action requires not only an openness and willingness to change, but also a commitment to change. It requires accountability with your team in which you honor their feedback by acting on it. It requires regular follow up and reassessing to monitor improvement. And in some cases, it may actually require you admitting to yourself, “I’m kinda being a Lumbergh here.”
And this was Lumbergh’s true flaw. He just didn’t know. So the moral of the story: It’s actually ok to be a Lumbergh, so long as you get the feedback from others, are willing to hear that feedback and most importantly, you must be willing and committed to change. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of time until the two Bob’s are sitting in your conference room.
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