Deb Nicol, a Dubai-based leadership consultant, answers a reader's question about how to be direct without being seen as a bully in the workplace.
An open dialogue will open so many doors
Dear Workplace Doctor, I like to tell it like it is. I think in the long term that is best. But I have received feedback that some of my staff view me as a bully. This could affect my career, which is important to me. What should I do? AX, Dubai
See this situation through the lens of others, and not just your own. The good news is that your people are still interested enough in you or their work environment to have shared their feelings openly - what a blessing, as feedback can truly be a gift when we commit to applying it.
Be thankful as a limited level of engagement is better than none, yet why compromise on full engagement? The bad news is that this will not go on for much longer, given the corporate vernacular's expansion into the realm of "bully-dom". With this word comes the reality that people follow leaders only if they feel an alignment and connection with the person and priorities. Credibility is the currency of leadership, and it's questionable whether yours may be running on empty currently.
To fill your credibility tank, trust needs to be gained, and clearly with feedback not coming directly to you, this now needs to be an area of priority. While trust is not tangible or visible, its presence is most certainly felt and valued. Why not start with the following to help here?
Integrate a communication "channel" such as a briefing meeting, preferably face-to-face, as a daily workplace habit.
Provide topics of relevance that will have positive impact on the functions your people perform.
Seek input during these meetings, and be sure that once your team does start to open up, all feedback is considered and commented upon. Be sure to provide reasons when the feedback cannot be used and encouragement for more where practical tips are used.
Share ownership of the meetings with each person leading it at different times, allowing partnerships to grow.
Walk your talk and follow-up consistently, doing what you say you will do - this will increase opportunities for you to be considered "believable" and "trustworthy".
Start noting what matters most to each individual and highlight commonality.
Show your vulnerability. If you really don't know an answer, share that and offer to find out, or challenge the team to find out. It's amazing what can happen when you open the Pandora's box of truth.
AX, you have potential to improve the workplace - let's face it, your people are trying. Yet this will only occur when we recognise that the pain of staying on a burning platform is more than the pain of making the change.
The doctor's prescription
Build trust into all that you do - trust me, it will come back tenfold to you.
Deb Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based Business En Motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for the workplace doctor's advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague