Go ahead and tear up that memo
Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot is taking some heat for how her "staff is turning over at an alarming rate", according to a Chicago Tribune reporter. As evidence of her demanding style as a manager is submitted an email in which she shared a photo of a torn-up memo with her staff. Lightfoot's declaration: "Here's my new practice for memos that come in at the last minute." She goes on to offer a reminder that memos are due "48 hours before the decision is needed". Tough? Maybe. But she's also managing America's 3rd-largest city.
■ If the staff isn't following an established process for delivering her memos, how is she supposed to respond? A process exists around a principal for a reason -- to ensure discipline and avoid wasting bandwidth. Was the torn-up memo the first one submitted late? Then, yeah, it looks like a tantrum. Was it the 48th one submitted late? Different story altogether.
■ People can go all too far in catering to the whims of a tyrannical leader, of course -- we see plenty of examples of brilliant jerks who get tolerated for far too long in all sectors of the working environment, and a long-overdue public accounting of downright abusive behavior in Hollywood has finally eroded some of the myth that has permitted people to get away with abuse as the cost of admission to their creative work.
■ But policies and rules are different from the perverted whims of a director's couch. If our institutions are doing anything right to try to elevate people of good judgment into positions of authority, then the only point of giving someone the duties of mayor (or governor, or President) is because they bring some valuable skills for discernment to the table. If a big-city mayor says "I need 48 hours to think about important decisions", then those are the conditions under which she thinks her decision-making skills ought to be exercised. That's not unlike Barack Obama wanting to use his BlackBerry in the Oval Office or Winston Churchill demanding short memos and brief meetings.
■ Discipline cuts both ways, too: Mitt Romney credits a rule firmly prohibiting work meetings on Sundays for keeping him focused as a venture capitalist. Just as the principal has a reasonable expectation for performance, their subordinates benefit from clear performance expectations and reasonable boundaries. Consistent procedures and structures, like the Toyota A3 problem-solving worksheet, keep hard work from going to waste.
■ In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "Pardoning the bad, is injuring the good." If a boss is tough merely because they have a difficult personality, then that's "the bad", and it ought to be called out. A leader's "emotional intelligence" really does matter.
■ But if a staff can't find a way to accommodate the needs of the principal, then it's the good staff members who are punished most by a failure to enforce the rules that optimize the key figure's work. Good subordinates want to make the boss look good, and voters have a fair expectation of getting the most value from the work of their elected officials. If a 48-hour review period is what it takes to get the most from your team, then Mayor Lightfoot, go ahead and tear up those late-arriving memos.