Is it possible that you unknowingly bully your laboratory staff because of a management style that is intimidating to them? According to Valerie Grubb, a New York City management consultant and trainer, here are five tell-tale signs indicating that could be the case:
- You rely on one/only a few people. This creates a perception of favoritism. Only the equally self-assertive may speak up. To assess yourself, consider a spreadsheet with your staffers’ names and check off how often you speak to them. If you see a pattern, commit to broadening your communication efforts over at least a few months, to make it a habit.
- People don’t speak up at meetings. If you have too many “spectators” at meetings, consider ending each meeting with a question such as, “What are you going to do differently as a result of this meeting?” Give everyone a chance to speak. That not only keeps people on their toes, it accustoms them to presenting their ideas in front of you. (Plus, they learn from how others present their ideas.)
- Others give in too quickly to your opinion. There’s something to be said for a challenging discussion. One technique: If someone gives in too easily to you, smile and say something like, “You’re accepting it that easily? What about …?” and argue their side for a while. That’ll indicate you want people to speak their minds.
- Staff members don’t seem confident, or seem to wait for their ideas to be rejected. This can happen when you immediately poke holes in their argument. One effective technique to consider: Finish or “complete” their idea for them, or take the idea to the next level. Staffers will feel pleased that you understood and helped them understand their own thinking better. Repeat a few times and they’ll be even more eager to present thoughts to you.
- Few people come to you with issues or concerns. You may want people to go through the chain of command, and certainly don’t want people going over their manager’s heads. But you also want to speak directly to people, too. When possible, have an open-door policy, even setting aside a specific time.
Choose an appropriate management style
If you see any of these signs, consider which management style you are using most often. Each is appropriate for specific times. Some broad categories include:
Command-and-control: This means you make the decisions and tell people how to carry them out. In a crisis, you need to be directive (and yes, a little intimidating). When the pressure’s off, however, you’re better off using other styles.
Example: There’s an accident in the lab, and you need people to isolate the problem and evacuate. At this point, you need to act like a drill sergeant and issue direct orders.
Command-and-execute: This usually happens when a lab staffer lets you down at crunch time, and you must step in and redo their work. It usually happens in small or cash-strapped organizations where there’s not enough training time for staff development. Key: If you have to resort to this management technique, make sure that, after the crisis is over, you offer coaching and encouragement. It’s demoralizing (and intimidating) to lab staffers if there’s no follow-up.
Example: You had delegated a grant application to a senior staffer. You realize at the last minute that the work needs to be redone , so you re-write the answers. Afterward, go over what went wrong and how to prevent the crisis the next time.
Consensus-building: You communicate a vision and want the team to assist in deciding which goals to set and how best to achieve them. The PI as a facilitator explores other’s ideas and makes decisions based on consensus. That way, everyone feels their input is valued, and you have everyone’s buy-in on the project.
Example: A PI wanted to implement new safety procedures in a chemical-testing lab. He simply implemented them command-and-control style. This caused his experienced lab techs to balk – many had been using the old procedures for more than a decade and said the new procedures slowed them down. That PI was eventually replaced. Better: Ask the lab techs how they could meet new safety requirements while maintaining productivity. Together, you can create new procedures that everyone accepts.
Coaching: You provide individual mentoring to help others develop skills. You look at how they manage their lab area, how they document, and how they report. Then offer advice, suggestions for improvement, and encouraging stories about how you developed in your career. The result is a closer, more trusting working relationship and higher productivity and performance.
Example: A new researcher found himself in conflict over time schedules and use of equipment with a senior researcher. A micro-manager would have imposed a solution. An impatient manager merely would have warned the new arrival not to get a reputation as a hot-head. But a coach would have gone a step further, and helped the person develop the skills to resolve the conflict, e.g., “Here are some suggestions for peacefully working this out,” and “Here’s how I handled a similar situation early in my career.”