Making Space

One of the questions that came up during the Lead to Align webinar was what to do when a product manager inherits a team that exhibits stereotypical IT behaviors. See on stereotypical behavior.

I answered the question in regards to the lead to align paradigm: knowing your people, designing the path to alignment, ensuring a win-win. But, later, I realized that there was one more thing a leader does. They make space.

To illustrate what I mean by making space, I have a story to tell that demonstrates what making space means. At a startup, I worked across the cubical partition from the Scrum leader for the team writing plug-ins. I didn’t work for him. When those of us on my side of the partition were carrying on a conversation, he would come around the partition. He could have just stood up and talked over the partition, but he came around the partition, got in the middle of us, and our conversation. He had the social skills I had not seen in any of my managers before him. He was, in fact leading.

The company was evil. But, I would have followed this guy anywhere. He made for a better workplace. He made a space entirely different from that of the evil company. He made space.

The space he created originated from his leadership. His team followed. His followers lived in the space he created. Leaders do that.

In every hierarchy, each branch is not just a path, but a place, a space. The manager of that branch at a given layer in the organization drives the character of that space. If that manager manages through fear, then people will run away from it. If the manager makes a safe place where staff are enabled and able to focus on their efforts and contributions, then people will flock to that space and contribute more.

In a company where people exhibit those stereotypical behaviors, building the space and keeping the negativity at bay requires a leader, so leading to align points the way. When a new manager arrives, that manager gets a short period in which to make an impact on the work lives of the led. That manager has a period of time in which to teach the staff how to work with them, a period of time to earn their respect and trust, a period of time to get to know the people, and to create that safe, comfortable space.

Affirming works. Enabling works. Aligning works. Relating works. Turning them into heroes, addressing concerns and issues, and taking them at face value, rather than holding them accountable to their past behaviors. You are new here, so conversely, they are new, to you, as well.

Turning them into heroes was something I was directed to do, when as a functional unit manager, I wanted to fire them. Yes, it happened.

How do you define the worker and boss roles? I define the worker’s role as making the boss into a hero. I define the bosses role as one of enabling them to turn the boss into a hero. The boss has to turn this inside out and make the worker a hero, if that worker is to find a way to contribute positively and stay on the job.

It’s not easy to turn a worker around or a workplace, but the product manager’s success depends on it. Make the effort. Do the hard work of being a leader. Don’t be a default leader. Don’t settle for anything less than being the leader.

I hope you enjoyed the webinar. I’ll post a link when I get it.

I realize that being the leader depends on your organization, on the way your organization defined the job, on the degree to which your CEO has distanced himself from the product. Still, you have the tools to turn the situation around, to prevent the situation from arising in the first place, to make your people heroes, and enabling them to make you into a hero as well.

Lead to align.

Leave a comment. Tell me what you think. Thanks!


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