Conflict-adverse leaders have narratives that keep them from addressing behavioral and performance problems. Listen closely, and you’ll hear the familiar, “I shouldn’t have to babysit my employees.” Another few favorites include:
- We’re all adults.
- They’ll just have to work it out.
- They were hired to handle these types of things.
- I just don’t have time for these lower-level issues.
No matter what the justification, there’s a price to pay for avoiding conflict. Every conflict that escalates can traced back to a conversation that should have happened but didn’t. The discussion today is the lawsuit of tomorrow. Here’s how to stop feeling like you’re babysitting employees.
Step 1: Redefine babysitting
Stop exaggerating about the requirements of your role. When you generalize, everything you don’t like about your job becomes some version of “babysitting.” The first step is to clarify what babysitting is and isn’t. Let’s start with what it isn’t.
Babysitting is not about having difficult conversations, asking for updates, holding people accountable, correcting inappropriate behavior or talking about results. You might not have signed up for these things, but they are expected of you as a leader. It’s part of your job. The less effective your direct reports are in conflict management, the more you’ll have to apply your skills before developing them. If you don’t have the skills, hire a coach and start practicing. If you leave results, behavior and performance to chance, you’ll suffer, your team will suffer and the organization will suffer — end of story.
Step 2: Clarify expectations
Talk to your team about how you plan on leading and clarify expectations. Even if you’ve failed to do this in the past, do it now. Tell them, “There’s a new sheriff in town,” and things will change about how you lead. Set the expectation to be updated weekly or monthly and schedule these updates in your calendar to keep them accountable. Let them know that when you see inappropriate behavior that goes against your mission or values, you will address it immediately.
Step 3: Revisit and revise policy
Block some time to review the policies. Delete the policies that no longer align with your work practices. Underline the policies that are still relevant but need to be enforced consistently. Make a strategic decision about whether to alter these policies or to hold a global meeting about new expectations and enforcements. Meet with all managers and let them know the changes and what you expect of them regarding enforcement. Tell them you will back them and let the policy be the bad guy. Instruct managers to meet with their teams for this update so everyone knows that what was once allowed will be no more. This practice should solve many of your unresolved conflicts and inconsistencies.
Step 4: Don’t take the bait
When you fully step into your leadership role, you will get resistance. If people have been allowed to override policy, misbehave or do lackluster work, there will be pushback. You’ll be labeled as “unfair” and “micromanager.” Like the term “babysitting,” the word “micromanager” is a loaded word intended to avoid responsibility. Don’t take the bait by defending yourself or, worse, appeasing and people-pleasing to be liked. The top and middle-level performers will eventually come around. You’ll let go of the ones that needed to go in the first place, and you’ll set yourself up to attract new talent that aligns with your mission.
Step 5: Rebuild trust
Petty drama is always a sign that there’s a lack of trust. On the surface, it may seem that the trust issues are between team members, but the root problem is often in the leadership. High-level leaders often assume that the leaders they hire to manage under them will have the skill sets to manage conflict. Very often they don’t. When leaders at any level avoid conflict or appease their workers to be liked, they create a ripple effect of interpersonal problems that affect productivity, well-being and organizational results.
Terms like “babysitting” and “micromanager” are loaded words to avoid responsibility. If you’re a leader, commit to stop complaining about having to “babysit” and instead lead the way by showing emotional stability, clarity and conflict capacity.
Marlene Chism is a consultant, speaker and author of From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading (Berrett-Koehler 2022). She is a recognized expert on the LinkedIn Global Learning platform. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn or at MarleneChism.com
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.