(This is Part 10 of Leadership Principles)
As I walked past Evan’s office (he was my SVP – my boss’ boss), I couldn’t help but overhear a terse and pointed telephone conversation. He was being quite belligerent and direct in telling the individual on the other end of the phone how screwed up things were and how he expected them to be fixed in a reasonably short time. Evan emphasized the point that failure to do so was unacceptable because that failure would have a detrimental impact on the people in his organization.
I timidly poked my head in his door after he hung up and asked “How’s it going chief?”
“Fine. Stupid stupid stupid decisions. I abhor stupidity.”
“Who’s being stupid?”
“Frank. The guy has no clue how much trouble some of his knee-jerk decisions can cause.”
“Yeah. I know. So who were you chewing out on the phone?”
“Frank. Don’t you listen?”
I listen. Evan’s answer began causing some cognitive dissonance for me. Frank was Evan’s boss – the Executive Vice President in charge of our entire division.
“Wait a minute. You were talking to Frank? Like that?”
“Yeah. Kick up. Kiss down.”
“What do you mean?”“As a leader, you have to be willing to kick the people above you when they make decisions that adversely affect your people. Your job is to protect your organization as best you can. Occasionally that requires reminding those above you that their decisions affect peoples’ lives and often in a negative way.”
“I see.” I guess he was refining the point on being a Human Crapshield (see the post for a deeper explanation of the term).
“Be careful how often and when you do it. It’s always in private. It’s always about the decision, not about the decision maker. Offer solutions and rationale as to why your answer is better. And always be prepared to get marching orders you might not agree with.”
“Okay. So you’re saying if I see you do something stupid that negatively affects my team, I should come give you a kick in the behind?”
“Absolutely. Just do it behind closed doors.”
“I will. What’s the ‘kiss down’ part all about?”
“Never kick down. Don’t kick your people. Ever. They work their tails off for you. If you kick them too often – and more than once is too often – they’ll go work their tails off for someone else.”
“Kiss down instead. Let them know you appreciate them. Praise their accomplishments and even if they fail, praise their efforts. They know they failed – they don’t need you to point it out or remind them. Simply let them know you are thankful for their hard work.”
“Pretty simple stuff. Kick up. Kiss down.”
“Yeah. Very simple. Too bad so many people have a hard time figuring it out.”
Upon reflection, this notion of kicking up and kissing down was probably one of the biggest reasons I loved working for Evan. I can only hope I’ll do half as good a job at living this maxim as he does.
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC