The challenge to coaching Level 3s is their inability to take responsibility or own their mistakes. Managers at Level 3 go to great lengths to blame others for their errors in judgment or poor decisions. They are quick to point the finger at others and will waste considerable energy thinking through situations as to make themselves “bullet-proof” from responsibility and thus criticism. The preferred way to lead at LDL3 is to have the team take a “vote” on the decision. This way if the decision does not turn out well I can say “we decided” and if turns out well I can credit for the decision.
In one coaching example, a frustrated manager recounted his lack of sleep because he had 8 direct reports and had to promote one. Emphasis on promote not fire one. I asked him why he was losing sleep. He said it was because the other 7 reports would think less of him and hurt his influence. I asked him what he planned to do. His response to me was to say that he was going to promote who he thought his boss wanted to promote. I replied that he was going to work with this report to the indefinite future and should he not be responsible for the decision himself. He looked at me and shook his head in disagreement. I said, what would happen if the person you promoted failed in his job. He looked at me and smiled that it would be his boss’ fault. What is so apparent from his story is his construction of the situation in a way to protect himself from being responsible for his decision. At LDL3 the source of his decision making is from the outside- in which makes him responsible for the bad outcome. And should the person promoted not perform well the manager’s easy and impulsive reaction will be to blame and point the finger at his boss. Problem solved. Unfortunately, because it is always someone else’s fault when something happens bad to me I never get around to learning from my mistakes which makes it difficult to grow in my leadership maturity.
LDL 3, like LDL2s, often find themselves solving the wrong problem. In the case above, the “problem” is how to promote a direct report that makes him “look good” to his boss and keep his other direct reports from being upset with him. The real leadership problem which is who to promote that has the best skills to serve the best interests of the company never gets considered. The manager’s own reading of the “politics” of the situation trumps professional competency and what is best for the company.