June 21, 2012

You Have 100% of My Confidence Until You Don’t

You have 100% of my confidence until you don’t.

Last year I had a conversation with a leader, Chung.  She was giving me a hard time about an ineffective manager, Vy, who reported to one of my direct reports, Linh.

Chung said, “Haven’t you talked to Linh about this behavior?  It’s not ok.  People are leaving because of Vy.”

“Yes,” I sighed.  “I’ve talked to Linh several times and leaned on her hard.  She defended Vy.  She thinks Vy has a few flaws but overall is doing a great job.”

Chung thought that Vy was terrible and hurting the team.  Chung asked me to force Linh to manage out Vy.  I told her that Linh had 100% of my confidence.  If Linh told me that Vy was doing a great job even after I pushed her then it was her decision to keep Vy.

At that moment a fundamental management principle emerged clearly in my mind.

I turned to Chung and said, “You have my confidence until you don’t.”  Chung gave me a puzzled look.

I explained that I will question and push my managers hard if I see a problem.  If they push back and defend a decision within their area of authority then I almost always will respect that.  I will support them publicly even if I disagree with the decision.

Overriding and second-guessing your managers on decisions — especially major people decisions — is a bad idea.  It crushes the morale of the manager and undermines their authority.

The minute you feel you must override a manager on a major people decision is the minute you have lost all confidence in the manager’s ability to lead.  The only thing to do at that point is to remove the manager.

You have my confidence until you don’t.