3 Areas Where Leaders Should Not Use Their Power

While Executive Directors are responsible for what happens in their organization, just because the leader has power, does not mean that they should use it – especially if they want to build a culture of trust, respect and transparency.

Sometimes, an action can be an obvious misuse of power. Other times, it’s more difficult.

Here are three of the more subtle areas of the misuse of power:

Area #1: Do not ask an employee to do something another employee was asked to do.

Case Study: Entering patient/client data into the medical clinic’s customer tracking system was part of the receptionist’s job description. The receptionist, admitted to the Executive Director (ED) that she was over two weeks behind in uploading the data the system.  The ED had a board meeting next week where client’s stats must be reported.  So the ED asked the Volunteer Coordinator (VC), to finish the data entry work because the ED knew she could count on her to get it done. While the VC felt honored that the ED had called upon her to help in a pinch, she also resented the request as it took her off task from her own duties and she definitely was not thrilled about having to pull another person’s weight.

Lesson: Leave the Volunteer Coordinator alone. Deal with the Receptionist.


Area #2: Do not ask employees to evaluate themselves.

Case Study:  The Nurse Manager (NM), has been an employee of the pregnancy medical clinic for over five years. She helped convert the client program to medical status, developed medical policies and procedures, implemented HIPAA compliance standards, and manages a team of five medical professionals. Jane knows that she is good at what she does and she is good friends with the Executive Director (ED). So when the ED handed her a “Self-Evaluation Form” as part of the performance review, the NM wondered why is she was being asking to do this – ‘doesn’t she know what I do’?

The NM contacted me to share how this felt to her. Thankfully, the friendship between the ED and NM prevailed and they both grew from this experience. But it was a rough road for them to walk.

And another thing. HR experts tell us that it’s common for employees who do a poor job to rarely rate themselves as poor. So now, the Executive Director has turned what could have been a constructive feedback session into a potential argument.

Lesson: While self-evaluations may sound empowering or inclusive, they are almost always a waste of time and may do more harm than good. If it’s feedback you want, ask the employee how you are doing as their leader and what you can do to help further develop their skills or their career.

Area #3: Do not ask employees to evaluate their peers.

Case Study: The Nurse Manager (NM) and Client Service Manager (CSM) work closely together to assure that high quality patient care is provided at all times. Both report to the Executive Director (ED).  The CSM joined the team about three ago. So the Executive Director asked the NM to complete a peer evaluation form as part of the Client Services Manager’s three month evaluation. The ED knew that there was already some mild tension between the two team members as the CSM was on a steep learning curve. While the intentions of the ED were good, the process resulted a serious breech in trust between the Nurse Manager and Client Services Manager. I spent many months helping the ED to rebuild this relationship that was damaged as a result of her misjudgment.

Lesson: No one likes or appreciates peer evaluations because “peer” means “work with.”  Hopefully, you are building a culture of support and respect. So anyone who is willing to say critical things about their peers often have a personal agenda and how much can you trust that?  It does not matter how strongly you claim that the evaluations are confidential, people always figure out who said what about whom.

Knowing employee performance inside-out is important. Great leaders truly know the people they lead. Do not comprise team trust by using peer to peer evaluations.

(This is part of our Leadership Coaching Series.)

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