Discover more from The Leaders Letters - From Danny Denhard @ Focus
Leaders Letter 178 - Pirates Overthrowing The Ship's Captain
Why Department Leads Needs Active Management, Coaching & Effective HR Partners
We are about to experience “the pirates overthrowing the ship's captain”.
It was a phrase that I remember when I started my career when it was an internal leadership battle but I hadn’t heard it again in many years.
The context this time around was very different but the end message is still the same.
Pirates Vs Captain Or Was The Captain The Problem
The pirates overthrowing the ship's captain statement was referencing a department that had enough of the existing department lead and had done everything to have them removed from their role.
By all accounts, the removal was well deserved. The lead hadn’t been a leader, they let performance drop to an all-time low, they let the majority of one-to-ones slip and rarely attended the department and team meetings. They left it to the team(s) “to sort out between them”.
Some of the circumstances explained:
Poor management had hindered the team's subculture and was impacting how the team were interacting
The situation had hindered the trust of the business in that department
The leadership team asked the Department lead what was happening within the team and large campaigns and they were unable to answer and struggled to follow up
HR was fully aware of the implications and decided it best to allow it to play out
The turn of phrase was interesting, implying the team members were pirates. Oddly enough pirates are almost exclusively seen as bad, often focusing in on “attacks and robs”.
Imagine finding out you were referred to as pirates and semantically you were attacking and robbing the department lead of their role… that really wasn’t what happened and it’s essential we are crystal clear in our communications as leaders.
Through all of my brief interactions, the team seemed to be super switched on, they wanted to hit targets and were looking for some direction from the business, not just their department head. The team Heads of were lost due to bad communication and issues were pushed between heads of departments and HR.
The biggest lesson here is some smart people make bad department heads (especially those without training and coaching) and often act in ways they feel are allowing the team to breathe, however, the micro lessons here are important too:
The lack of communication caused problems from their boss, throughout the department and cross-functionally - meaning their own department was being seen as incompetent and unable to help colleagues
Dropping 1-2-1s caused bigger interpersonal issues and hurt trust within the department. Team leads would complain to each other and their teams but felt unable to make real progress. HR didn’t want to intervene too quickly - creating another layer of distrust - this grows and spreads quickly
Communication needed to flow effectively between the leadership team and heads of teams and throughout their teams. This is where skip meetings could have uncovered some of these issues (with open communication between the Department Lead boss and the Heads of Teams) and sped up the process of the Department lead being replaced.
One of the ongoing issues that are rarely addressed within businesses is the lack of management accountability and reviews of their managers and then review of their team members.
Step Up Leaders!
The number of times senior leaders could remove issues by simply connecting with their report’s team members and by asking for regular feedback you then should be able to spot patterns and not rely on “pirates”.
This week’s focus action is to check in and meet with important members of your middle management and see where Department leads are struggling or falling short, especially with the pressures of November and December.
Have a great week ahead!
This customer learnt a lot from the consultancy and were happy for me to share the information to help others learn from this