September 20, 2020

Corner Office: Linda Lausell Bryant: Note to Staff: We’re a Team, Not a Family

Q. Talk about some important influences for you.

A. Part of my background includes conflict resolution training. And I really feel like that has shaped me tremendously. There are understandable tendencies among people to say, “Let’s avoid conflict.” I was trained to really go for it, and find out what some disagreement is about. What’s really underlying it? What are the underlying needs and issues here?

So two people will present the conflict as, “I wanted the red one; she wanted the blue.” Or whatever it is. But is it really about the red or the blue, or what’s it really about? I’ve always felt particularly adept at finding out the underlying psychodynamic issues. The training to not avoid the conflict — to kind of go for it and learn to get comfortable with it — was something that shaped me very much.

Q. How else does your background influence the way you manage and lead?

A. You have to respect not only people’s needs, but also their pain, their vulnerability. A lot of battles are about very personal things. I’m very attuned to the unspoken needs that people play out in the workplace. People are people in whatever setting — they bring their luggage of stuff, we all do — and the dynamics in the workplace are a function of the interaction of what we all have in our suitcases. You can’t change that. You can acknowledge it. You can give it space. You can give it air and light. In the end, it can’t rule the day, either, because in the workplace there are higher things and rules that are going to guide what we need to do here. It’s helpful to know that, and be aware of it as a boss, and it’s even better if employees are aware of it and that they feel that you’re not trying to change who they are.

So I really try to allow people to bring their full selves, and I try to hire with an eye toward: “O.K., what is it that you have? What are these personal characteristics that you have in addition to all your obvious qualifications that would mesh with this organization, that are complementary to what we’re trying to get done here?”

Q. How has your leadership style evolved?

A. Recently, I’ve really shifted my thinking. Our culture reflected our work, which is to create a sense of family for our teens. So our staff would say: “We’re a family. We’re a family.” And I’ve actually said directly to everyone in all-staff meetings: “We’re not a family, because in a family you never can fire somebody like your Uncle Joe. You just can’t. You have to put up with him because he’s family. In an organization, if someone is taking the organization down, we can’t accept that because the organization is bigger than any one of us.”

So I’ve said to them that the analogy that best suits us is, “We’re a team,” and in a team, everybody’s got a role to play. And the team wins when everybody plays their roles to their best ability. The other thing that’s different in a team is that people understand the concept of roles. So if you’re the manager, you have a job to do as a manager. No one, generally speaking, resents the fact that you have authority because they understand that it comes with the role of a manager and that teams need managers. They don’t manage themselves.

But in a family, it is about power. You know, Mom or Dad has the power, and I think the dynamic that often plays out in a workplace is that people project all of their parental stuff. And I remember a job where I actually had to say to my team: “I am not your mother. I’m the division director here. I have a job to do. You have a job to do.”

Q. How else has your leadership style changed?

A. I feel I’ve grown up more as a manager in this job. It’s been a process, but I’ve really grown up because I went from being the charismatic leader, the leader everyone loves — “I love you, and you love me, and we’re a big, happy family” — to being more comfortable with everyone not being happy. I’d like everyone to be happy, but I can take it if they’re not. And I no longer feel like it’s my job to make sure everyone is happy. My job is to fulfill the mission of this organization, and to make sure that all the pieces are in place so that we can do that.

Q. What changes did you make when you took over?

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6e543adf57a5d2c96a81f265b9386d3a

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