Hands off managers (and holidays)
Not only do I think Sir Phillip Dilley’s departure from the Environment Agency was wrong, I think it was an incredibly bad decision. Outsiders shaming a person in a position of power into resigning because he or she didn’t return from a holiday when his of her organisation faced one of their biggest challenges is ridiculous. Virtue-signaling (which is becoming tiresomely prevalent in our society) was at the root of this shoddy thinking and poor decision-making.
Heads of organisations aren’t (or shouldn’t be) the doers, they’re the strategists who listen to front line staff, take account of the macro environment then make decisions and fire people up to want to implement them. (And yes, some of the best leaders are so great because they’ve been the doers in the industry in which they’re now at the top, but not all). So was he needed to bail water in Tadcaster? Was he the best person to ferry Carlisle residents from their homes to shelters and when he said “sorry, can’t do it, I’m lazing on a lounger this week” they decided to fire him? Of course not. The media whipped up a storm, as they often do, just because they can.
Secondly, if his input was required, he could probably have done it all remotely. What’s the point of having Face Time on our phones if we can’t put it to good use in situations like this? And let’s be honest, was it the nature of his holiday we/the media didn’t like? If he’d been on a sabbatical building shelters in Syria for reugees would he have been hauled over the coals for not coming back?
As an aside we’ve heard in recent days that employees are giving the equivalent of their holiday entitlement back to their employers through discretionary effort on their devices outside ‘normal’ work hours. Everyone needs a break, to disconnect from our ‘always on’ society, and that’s what he was doing. For many reasons, I wouldn’t want to work for someone who didn’t take their holiday.
Thirdly, surely it’s for the people within the agency to criticize his leadership, not the outside. Only the people who work in the agency or partner with it know whether he’s thinking soundly and making solid decisions. If he’s not doing these things then that’s something that should be being addressed in any case – and of course he’d deserve the boot.
I’m finding this all particularly irksome because I spent a whole day earlier this week with leaders at a London Borough Council getting them to see that their organisation would only be sustainable if their teams could function without them. We were exploring what it takes to move to a coaching culture where leaders build their colleagues’ awareness, resourcefulness and responsibility to act.
Sounds odd but I’d be happier if he was a stinking leader and this was simply an excuse to sack him. Better that than him get pushed simply because he didn’t come back from his holiday when he trusted his team to get on without him.
What do you think? What would you team say about your management style? What kind of a manager do you want to be? Do you take all of your holiday?