Consider the lowly umbrella. If you open it and hold it over you, it will protect from whatever is coming down from above. Let’s call it “rain”. Generally, you close the umbrella when you expect it to be sunny. Such is the responsibility of the executive manager. The executive is the umbrella for her team. She protects them against “rain” – blame, criticism, unrealistic expectations, etc. However, when the news is sunny – praise, awards, prizes, recognition, etc, she immediately puts down the umbrella and lets all that good sunshine flow down on her team. Nothing is more harmful to a team’s morale than for the leader, if criticized, to point the finger at her team, or, when the order of the day is praise, take all of the credit.
On the other hand, I am from Texas, and, in Texas, we know rain can be a good thing. Of course, we usually don’t put the umbrella down and let it rain all over us, but we know we need it. This is also true of institutional “rain”. Criticism is often justified and results do have to be achieved. Therefore, it is the executive’s responsibility to turn that “rain” into something useful. Taking the criticism and working with her team to find a way to improve is a hallmark of the successful executive. Developing a plan to achieve the required results instills confidence in her team. The wise executive uses these times of “rain” to improve her skills and the skills of those around her.
There is a corollary to the Umbrella Theory. I call it “Praise in Public; Criticize in Private”. The title is not as catchy as the Umbrella Theory, but you will not have any trouble remembering it. Anyone who has been criticized in public knows how that feels. It is uncomfortable for everyone and not productive. Don’t do it. When the “rain” comes down, however, there is usually some truth in it, and it sometimes involves a person or persons on the team. It has to be addressed with the people involved. An executive cannot just let it pass. While she may defend her team member to the outside world, she must privately discuss the “rain” with the individual or individuals who need to learn something from it. Ignoring it only leads both her team and the person in question to believe that she will do anything to avoid conflict.
On the other side, let the sunshine fall directly on those who earned it. The experienced executive will focus the credit, praise, rewards on her team members who did the work – In Public. If there is no public opportunity to celebrate them, make one. Have a party. Take everyone to lunch. If that doesn’t work in your shop, make the opportunity to focus the spotlight on team members’ achievements. Order a pizza and celebrate!
Jan, I love this analogy. Really nice piece.