In part 1 “Shaping Employee Engagement and Emotional Intelligence” I outlined a situation in which one of my direct reports (Sally) launched an email broadside aimed at my boss and included my entire team and copied the executive team. She disagreed with a decision. She had a significant insight that if delivered with some finesse would have improved the project. Her edgy emotionally charged tone buried her insights and resulted in a sharp rebuke from my boss. I returned from a business trip to manage multiple layers of disillusionment and anger.
I urge open communication among my team. This fact is known in the company and upon my return I was instructed to pull my team in line. Managing up meant that I affirm the inappropriateness of the email and outline the limits I insist on when encouraging open communication (i.e., respect, a clear business case, passion – emotion does not bother me). The email failed to communicate respect, it communicated impertinence. It failed to make a business case – it jumped to unsubstantiated conclusions on the motives of the executive team. It had plenty of passion. Two things were at stake in my upward management: (1) whether I was leading the team or was being overrun by the team and (2) whether the disruption caused by the employee offset the value they brought to the company. How would you manage the upward challenge?
When I walked back into the office I asked Sally to meet with me. She entered my office and declared, “Tom already talked to me about the email.”
“Ok, then tell me why it was inappropriate.” I asked.
She answered, “I was mad and should have just kept this to myself. I will never talk again every time I do I just get shot down.”
What do you see in her response? How would you have responded to her statement? What result might I face if I let her statement stand?
The rest of my team was hiding in their offices. I made the rounds and checked in with each of them. They felt the tension in the office and universally felt that they had lost something in the public exchange that occurred between Sally and Tom. They knew I was under pressure to bring things back into control. They did not want to lose the ability to talk openly with me about their concerns and ideas. On the other hand they did not want to go through another round of acidic public exchanges. They felt my boss could be punitive even over reactive.
Was my boss over reactive? What did I need to pay attention to as I responded to the team?
In Part 3, I will tell the rest of the story and how things worked out.