Isolation of Being the Boss

Create a culture to get proper feedback from subordinates

One of the most interesting executives I have ever worked for was mercurial.  The verbal beatings he gave were legendary.  His insight and intuitive understanding of the workers’ compensation system was also unparalleled.  He created a very profitable company by wringing out the best from his employees. However, few of the senior executives survived more than a few years working for him.  A result of his management style was that few if anyone ever wanted to bring problems or issues to his attention.  They knew that no matter the issue or their innocence there would be a beating.  As a result, he was starved for accurate and timely information.  His solution was to review the daily operation statistics and to hire independent auditors to regularly review his operations.

The best executive I have ever worked with had an entirely different approach.  He was always collaborative and never ever “shot the messenger”.  My first ever experience of his style was when a subordinate directly questioned a statement of his in an important executive meeting. His response was a classic. “You have a great point. I may be wrong on that. Let’s get all the facts so we can make the right decision.”  He was secure and confident enough in who and what he was, to allow a subordinate to question or challenge him without seeing it as an attack on his authority or an attack on him.  He cared more for the feelings of the employee, and for the ethics of the company than worrying about his reputation.  That approach made him an exceptionally effective executive. He always got exceptional effort from his employees and has long term loyalty from his employees because he treated them with respect and trust. His company was very successful.

Employees’ fates (and salary levels) are in the hands of the senior executives.  Many employees are naturally afraid to interact with their senior executives. They do not want to bother the executive with what may be a trivial issue or be seen in a poor light.  They also may not want to be seen by others in the work environment as sycophants. Some are reluctant to engage because, as less experienced workers, they are concerned about being seen as stupid or misinformed.  The reluctance to engage may also be present when an examiner is dealing with their supervisor or their claims manager.  Usually, the further up the “food chain” the greater the reluctance to interact.  A result of this fear is that there are potentially important issues which are not brought up to the appropriate level for intervention and resolution. 

This fear is somewhat lessened for employees who are assured of their security and place within the organization.  

There are many skilled examiners, supervisors, and managers.  Advancement in an organization is usually tied to the next level knowing who you are, what you do and how well you do it.  Some of that comes from not being afraid to talk to the executives.  One method of starting the engagement process is to comment on successes by co-workers or the company.  Engagement is easier when sharing both successes as well as issues and concerns.  If there is a problem or issue it is a good idea to propose a solution to the problem. 

As a supervisor, manager, VP or President, realize that you are not always getting all the information you need to make the proper decisions.  Set an example of encouraging your employees to speak up. Never beat the messenger.  Always investigate issues raised and if it is a problem, intervene to get it resolved.  If it is not an issue requiring your involvement thank the employee and explain what you will (or won’t) be doing about the issue.  As a supervisor, manager VP or president, determine what feedback and information you need to do your job. Create a structure (daily reports, industry benchmarks etc.) which will make sure that the information is in your hands on a timely basis.  Never underestimate the power of independent audit.  Most importantly, create a culture which encourages people to bring up issues and problems.