image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveFair warning—watch out ahead for excessive use of alliteration and the massacre of more than a few innocent metaphors.

What I really wanted to call this post was, “Quit Acting Like a Hyper-Rooster.” It’s much more visual, and after all, does anyone really want to look or act like a hyper-rooster? Yet, that’s exactly what too many managers act and look like, as they simultaneously strut and flit around the office or plant, moving from activity to activity, focusing on everything and nothing and making their colleagues dizzy and disoriented in the process.

These over-caffeinated and self-anointed drivers of productivity falsely believe that constant pushing and oversight followed by more pushing are all essential. They subscribe to an old model of motivation—one that depended upon unwavering immersion in the act of “supervising” the work of others. The underlying belief is that people who are watched and/or, who are constantly goaded into action actually outperform those left to their own designs.

There’s the un-trusting, “you’re likely screwing off if I’m not here, so I’m going to incessantly look over your shoulder,” form of this “hyper-rooster syndrome.” And then there’s the falsely noble but every bit as destructive form of constantly “touching base” or “checking in” which fools no one. A third incarnation is the manager who resets priorities every time the wind changes direction, creating a maelstrom of motion but killing any chance of productive performance. I’ve encountered a few managers who regularly hit the trifecta in displaying these horrendous habits.

While it might work for ensuring calm in prison populations, this style of management—death by oversight and over-involvement—doesn’t work for any audience on the other side of the barbed wire. Our brains are wired to respond differently depending upon whether external stimuli are sending us forward (with interest) or pushing us away from something (out of fear). The habits of the hyper-rooster manager induce anxiety and ambiguity and drive us squarely into the fight or flight camp. Unless we’re being challenged for “who’s going to be dinner?” by a sabre-tooth tiger, the fight or flight trigger offers no benefit in the workplace. Quit invoking it, dammit!

Your job…our job, is to form and frame an environment where we’re able to simplify complexity, stimulate creativity and foster collaboration in pursuit of their work and the team’s or firm’s goals. While sounding a bit like the inside of a Hallmark Management Card (do they have that category?!) it’s true. The short form tag-line might be (in a tribute to Deming): “Get the fear out!”

image of a hand holding a mirrorSpeaking of fear, if you fear that you resemble the hyper-rooster, even a little bit, why not try an experiment or three. (If you’re not sure, find someone willing to give you frank feedback and ask them about what works and what doesn’t work with your style.) Spend more time up front clarifying goals and direction and then back off and let people show you what you can do. If you’re courageous, confess to your team that you are working on becoming more effective as their manager and part of it is trusting more and overseeing less. While no one will believe you until you prove it, at least you won’t leave them confused, waiting for the hyper-rooster to jump in the middle of their work.

Try issuing fewer orders and instead, ask more questions. Aim for a 10:1 ratio—10 questions for every order. Keep a tally.

Encourage people to reach out to you to bounce ideas around or to alert you of potential problems and potential solutions to problems. Don’t fall back into old habits and start solving every problem for everyone who walks through your office door. Your new favorite question should be, “I don’t know, what do YOU think YOU should do?”

Offer positive feedback. A lot of positive feedback. You’ll be amazed how people respond once they get over the shock.

Take the time to sit down with team members and work with them on developmental ideas or directions. Where needed, offer that critical constructive input. Try feed-forward. Instead of criticism, talk about great behaviors and approaches looking forward.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While the list of good behaviors can go on indefinitely, changing our behaviors is incredibly difficult. Look in the mirror and if you see a hyper-rooster, accept that you need to change and do it incrementally. Move too fast on your own positive change and people will think you’re dying. Of course, if you keep up your old habits, they might not mind.

See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.