Let’s kick off today’s column with a word or two from Robert Burns, best known as a Scottish poet who lived in the 1700s — but who was clearly a management scholar ahead of his time when he wrote:
To see oursels as ithers see us.”
Burns wished we could have the ability to compare our view of ourselves and our actions with what others perceive. For managers, that could be a great gift indeed. It would help them understand what I call the “Evil Twin Syndrome.” I’ve written about this before and talk about it often in my teaching.
Here’s what it means: Managers know what they believe in, what they aspire to be and what their intentions are in their everyday interactions with staff. But what they carry in their hearts and minds isn’t necessarily apparent to others:
That’s how “Evil Twins” are born. Examples:
- I see myself as “Passionate about Quality”; they see “Impossible to Please.”
- I see myself as “Rolling up My Sleeve to Help”; they see “Micromanager.”
- I see myself as “Tough but Fair”; they see “Tactless.”
- I see myself as “Compassionate”; they see “Conflict-averse.”
Evil Twins bedevil many managers. I see it all the time when I try to diagnose disconnects in organizations. Well-meaning managers aren’t getting the results they hope for, staff members are resisting change or new ideas, tension is growing between work groups — because the Evil Twins are offending, confusing or frightening the staff.
How does it happen?
- Too little communication. Managers may think action speaks louder than words and fail to fully and frequently share their goals, intentions and values.
- Too much assumption. People often view the actions of others through the prism of their worst fears.
- Too little feedback. Managers get less feedback than employees. Employees are understandably hesitant to offer critiques to their bosses. So bosses may continue to behave in ways that alienate staff, until someone finally speaks up.
I realize that every now and then, the Evil Twin isn’t a shadow figure, but in fact, the real Evil Boss. Those people don’t deserve to be in their management roles and usually lose them, but not before doing plenty of damage to people and products.
But in working with hundreds of good managers over the years, I find that when they get that Robert Burns gift of seeing themselves as others see them, and discover their Evil Twins, they work like the devil to disown them.
If you want to disown yours, listen to my eight tips in today’s podcast: “What Great Managers Know about Their Evil Twins”:
Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.